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How COVID Has Changed Brand Messaging

Back around March there was a moment when everyone thought COVID-19 would be an inconvenience that lasted possibly a few weeks. Businesses closed temporarily, people began to stay home, and the advertising industry seemed to spin new ads overnight for companies that wanted to keep their voice heard during a confusing time. 

Initial Messaging

With time constraints, budget considerations, and a whole lot of unknowns, these ads started to sound a little similar. Someone took notice, and created a parody ad that could have easily ended with almost any brand logo and still made sense. 

Commercials weren’t the only place similarities existed. We helped our clients craft messages for their websites, emails and other digital platforms to address the situation and ensure their customers that they were doing everything they could to keep everyone safe. 

The strategy wasn’t focused on originality, it was to get a straight-forward message customers could quickly see to ease stress or worry. And it worked. Customers needed to find information quickly, understand how the brand was affected and what they were doing to continue forward–and that is exactly what they found. 

Current Messaging

Now that we have all come to understand this pandemic is lasting far beyond those first few weeks, or even months, messaging is shifting again. Things like social distancing, mask wearing and hand sanitizer are infused into pretty much every person’s daily life. In addition to the “new normal” we’re growing accustomed to, brands have had more time to stop and think about messaging that can be more tailored to their company and their customers.

The result shows just how nimble the advertising world can be, and the need for companies to shift and adapt quickly. For some brands that has meant cheeky campaigns or clever ways to present their content–while still being something that can be quickly produced and budget-sensitive. 

Take this most recent KFC commercial. Sure, it doesn’t address all the seriousness of the coronavirus, or even really make literal sense, as some viewers point out in the comments. But it does give KFC a way to join the conversation, and to make you stop and think about their brand slogan (and finger-lickin’ good chicken). 

Another more guerilla tactic is the one Burger King Belgium implemented: face masks printed with your order when you place a pick-up through their app. Again, this idea hits a number of markers, but mostly it’s giving their customers a little extra something of interest, while also leaning into the norms we’ve come to know.

Burger King mask example

Or a more subtle, yet strong, approach to the current times, Nike released an ad for their Nike Membership with the slogan, “You can’t stop sport. You can’t stop us.” The ad is so typical Nike, with all the emotion and buildup that comes from sports, but weaving in the most current feelings: cleaning bleachers, playing sports with masks, without crowds, and inside your home. 

Thinking about these same strategies, and what makes them successful, can help lead timely and impactful messaging no matter where your brand is speaking to customers. Emails, social media posts, digital or traditional advertising…the truth is simple: people connect with messages that resonate. And what resonates right now are the current events that encompass us all.

As you think about what you’re putting out there, or about to put out there, first ask yourself how this pandemic has affected your customers. Not in general terms, but specifically how your company being affected has trickled down to them. That is how to leverage creative in a thought-provoking way. As Burger King showed us, it’s not just about wearing a mask–it’s how wearing a mask affects ordering their food. Or in Nike’s case, how social distancing won’t stop the sports you love. 

Top 5 Super Bowl Moments in Digital Marketing

In the world of marketing, the Super Bowl is the ultimate platform for brands to get their audiences engaged. It has turned into more than ‘just commercials’; brands are flooding their audiences with campaigns from TV ad spots, tweets, Instagrams, and Facebook posts. Some campaigns get all the attention, and others fall flat.

Here are some top moments from past years, as well as our favorite from this year’s Super Bowl 50:

#5. Audi Uses the First Hashtag in a Super Bowl Ad

2011 – Super Bowl XLV


Audi created the first 60-second TV spot that used a hashtag for Super Bowl marketing – #ProgressIs. Viewers who used the hashtag and the URL in their tweets were entered into a contest, the grand prize of which was a trip to Sonoma, California and a test drive with Audi – among other things. Although this hashtag didn’t make the “trending” list on Twitter, Audi saw a huge spike in their followers – about a 47% increase. The increase was at the same time as their YouTube teaser campaigns, and this showed that audiences were engaged in the campaign.

#4. JC Penney Super Bowl Mittens

 2014 – Super Bowl XLVIII


During the game, J C Penney tweeted numerous times with egregious typos. There was a lot of buzz around these miss-spelled tweets. Were they drunk? Did they get hacked?

This never occurred to the company when they were planning their campaign. In reality, the tweets were a part of the ongoing JCPenney campaign for the Olympics – they had “Go Team USA” mittens. The original plan was to tweet a few of these erroneous quips, following up with the hashtag #tweetingwithmittens. Although not interpreted how they were intended, the two jumbled tweets along with the hashtag generated 46,951 retweets and 21,357 favorites. Their brand got a lot of attention and this was a widely talked about digital marketing moment for Super Bowl XLVII.

#3.   Bud Light’s “Up for Whatever” campaign

 2014 – Super Bowl XLVIII


The cast of the “Up for Whatever” campaign attracted huge attention from the public, as it featured 5 rock stars, 4 celebrities, and 412 actors. #upforwhatever was a top trending hashtag, also used on three highly shareable videos which received more than 1 million views and 55k Facebook likes within 72 hours.

These videos posed the question to viewers, as well as their star studded cast, “Are you #UpforWhatever ?

#2. Oreo Dunk Tweet

 2013 – Super Bowl XLVII


The Super Bowl, in 2013, had a temporary electrical blackout, and the Oreo marketing team quickly jumped on this opportunity with their ad, which must have been made as a snap decision and put together literally during the Super Bowl.

“You Can Still Dunk In The Dark” got nearly 15k retweets, more than 20k likes on Facebook, and is a great example of real-time marketing.


#1. New Super Bowl Moment

2016  – Super Bowl 50


Esurance promoted a contest this year where viewers could tweet and retweet for a chance to win up to $1 million.

Their hashtag, #EsuranceSweepstakes, trended nationally for 15 minutes, and generated 9k tweets per minute last night. In fact, Esurance ranked #1 on Spreadfast’s first quarter Super Bowl data, with 375k tweets.

The Super Bowl has been, and continues to be one of the largest marketing and advertising opportunities for companies advertising in the US. Being different and coming up with new and engaging ideas is the challenge facing these brands year after year, and with all that competition, this list was only able to mention a few of the best, most buzz-worthy campaigns. Check out other Super Bowl ads on YouTube, and remember to tune in every year for these great ads – and also the game.


For more on these digital marketing moments:\

Who Won 2015?

Who Won 2015?


With 2015 winding down to an end, we just have one question on our mind… which social media platform won 2015? We’ve lined up our top five channels, compared the numbers and weighed the results. While Facebook currently presents the highest amount of active users, Snapchat appeals to a younger generation that isn’t necessarily as active on Facebook. Twitter allows for real time updates with a chance of “going viral.” After only being around for five years, Instagram is currently the fastest growing major social platform, while Pinterest has taken off with the growing ‘do-it-yourself crowd.’ So with all this in mind, who won 2015?

Continue reading “Who Won 2015?”

Notes From the Post-it Wars

It was great that Flightpath was included in New York Magazine‘s recent ‘Reasons to Love New York’ special edition. As a digital agency based in NYC, we love New York too and were pleased to be part of their roundup.

The reason? We were included in a piece about a Post-It Art ‘War’ between our agency and some of our neighbors on 25th Street. (See scanned clip below — this wasn’t published online). For better or worse, New York reported that our neighbors ‘won the war’ and they’re probably right. Those guys did a great job and showed a tremendous amount of creativity. But I’m really pleased with the way our folks participated. We basically started the whole thing, showed a ton of creativity and resourcefulness, and kept battling as the months went on. — These are all attributes that I consider part of our agency’s DNA. We’ll see how this progresses in the months to come.

Continue reading “Notes From the Post-it Wars”

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!”

The Significance of Emojis in Brand Marketing 😃

When cell phones first came out over thirty years ago, no one could have ever predicted how vital they would be in marketing, let alone our daily lives! The same can be said about major social platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter. With this in mind, we’re taking a look through our marketing microscope; is it possible that Emoji’s share the same fate of marketing success as the aforementioned? From cell phones, to social platforms, is there a future for this “social expressionism” in brand marketing? Here we examine how brands utilize Emojis across different social platforms to engage with their target audience.

Brands are successfully coming out with their own campaigns using emojis and impacting social media in new creative ways, keeping brands ahead of the pack (credit shirley)! According to The Guardian Magazine, “This allows brands to “communicate with their target audience, to infiltrate their mobile phones, to demonstrate that they are on top of the latest communications trends, and also to convey messages in elegantly simple ways.


Bud Light: Twitter & YouTube



GE: Tumblr


PETA: YouTube



Admit it- you use emojis on a day-to-day basis. Whether it’s on your phone via text, Snapchat, Twitter or Instagram; it’s undeniable how universal the emoji language has become. Now that brands have jumped on this bandwagon, what does this mean for the future of emojis?

For starters, expect to see more branded emoji keyboards available for download on your phone. Emoji’s will also appear in your search engine and vice versa, your search engine will be able to read emojis:



Actual Website URL’S will have emoji’s in them:

Coca cola


And if we peer into our marketing telescopes, perhaps there is a future for emojis on a lexical scale? Or maybe they will finally come out with the taco emoji!

Social Media Builds Hype for #MayPac

Mayweather vs Pacquiao

I’ll admit I’m Flightpath’s biggest boxing fan. I attend weigh-ins and fights. I’ve had the opportunity to interview famous boxing personalities. I even have a collection of autographed boxing gloves. Heck, I’ve got boxing gloves on my business card (It’s quite a conversation starter).

Continue reading “Social Media Builds Hype for #MayPac”

Calling All Foodies! @TwitterFood is here!

Exciting news on the social media and food fronts! Today Twitter launched @TwitterFood, a dedicated account that sifts through the thousands of food-related content shared on the social network and shares a curated selection of posts from the general public and food personalities including Mario Batali and Alton Brown.

While I follow thousands of folks on Twitter, I do see a lot of junk food tweets. It’s great to see the best of the best come through in one handle, and probably it could drive people to tweet more enticing tweets than a random self-promo posts, which I’m guilty of doing. Here we go, I’ll step up my food tweet game. I’m hoping one of my foodie tweets from my foodie account, @deeCuisine, will get picked up so I can have a Twitter moment of fame.

In addition to @TwitterFood, Twitter also has other curated feeds – @TwitterMusic and @TwitterSports.

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.



Restaurant Week is Here, for a few weeks…literally

So Eat Your Heart Out NYC…more literally!

French, Italian, Vietnamese, Greek, Olympian… now is the time, if you love finer dining, to get your fill.  If you live far from the city, you can live vicariously like I do, through the Flightpath Foodies.

Clearly, I’m no foodie, but I DO work with some incredible foodies, the kind of people who know all about food and drink and who drool over the culinary arts like I do 70lb+ dogs. People who shock and amaze clients and co-workers with what they know about sources of origin, pairings, and yes – even the best places to go.

So, with our new Mayor calling on all of us to “eat out” (as once only the beloved Mayor Koch could do) I thought “Why not reach out to these remarkable sources of foodiness and get them to share with you their favorite thing or two about Restaurant Week (the app ain’t bad!) or the “epic” food scene of our fair metropolis?” Without further ado, their thoughts:

Denise de Castro, Vice President Client Services: “I have a few tips! I usually make my reservations on the first day they open – this year it was on Feb 10th. The places I usually hit up during #nycrw are SD26 and A Voce – simply because they’re near our office. I’d also recommend ilili – they’ve got a fantastic lamb burger. Another tidbit (noted on my blog):
Be sure to register your American Express credit card to get a $5 statement credit each time you spend a total of at least $25 at a participating restaurant during the NYC Restaurant Week campaign. And don’t forget: it’s also Japanese Restaurant Week in NYC. Enjoy!”

Leslie Poston, Senior Social Media Strategist: “New York is a town of discovery, and I love finding those little quirky places that have a unique feature or fun element (like PDT’s “secret” phone booth entrance), as well as places that have as much atmosphere as quality food. I use Foursquare lists and tips to help me find out what my friends love about the city, find out when a place has become too crowded and “scene” to enjoy – allowing me to choose somewhere else. I also use Foursquare and Twitter to connect with friends when they are out. It’s how I’ve discovered a few local speakeasies and other hidden gems. It’s Restaurant Week – treat yourself!”

Michelle Kelarakos, Social Media Strategist: “Take advantage of Restaurant Week to go to restaurants that are on your food bucket list. The best advice I can give anyone going with a loved one or friend is to order different items from the tasting menu so that you both get to try different dishes. Sometimes, the menu is so good you can’t just pick one so why not make a tasting out of it!”

Countdown- Top 7 Reasons Why Brand Obama Won

How did Obama’s brand help him win the presidency? Here are 7 reasons why Brand Obama is a force to be reckoned with:

  1.  Incumbents have the undeniable advantage of Air Force One, the Presidential Motorcade, The White House and that really cool Presidential logo/ seal.  Most Americans, me included, love symbolism and nothing comes with more than Office of the Presidency aka Commander and Chief!

  2.  Mr. Obama acted extraordinarily presidential when it mattered most- be it during Hurricane Sandy, going after Bin Laden and saving the American Auto industry. People, especially those in Ohio, never forget defining moments.

  3.  The President, by hiring Hillary and relying on Bill, unequivocally showed Americans that he can bury the bad; while, embracing differences to his and the country’s advantage.  A rare ability, as Doris Kerns Goodwin pointed out in her book “Team of Rivals” that served to reinforce it was the republicans who didn’t want to compromise.

  4. Youth was never wasted on the young for the President and nor were never ending tweets, facebook posts, email shout outs and much much more of youthful social media. As has been widely reported more young people turned out this time for Obama than last.

  5. Like all great brands, Mr. Obama fixed what was broken before it became damning and defining.  After the first debate, he brought his desire and fight to the nation and his competitor. And, he stopped letting Mr. Romney look like he was the Presidential brand steward. Again, how Obama handled “Sandy” or calling out Romney on “exporting auto jobs” to China won undecided people and Ohio.

  6. Vice President Joe Biden while at times a “messaging liability” was still a way better brand asset than Congressman Ryan was to Romney. At the end of the day, when competing for very limited “market share” conversion opportunities where every point is huge- engaging VS alienating- almost always wins.

  7. American’s buy into dreamers- George Washington, Abe Lincoln, Bobby Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Steve Jobs, the 1980 Olympic Hockey Team and the list goes on and on.  While many expected Mr. Obama’s 2008 vision of HOPE and his dream of a united, thriving nation to have already happened, people cut dreamers slack just as they cut non dreamers at the knees!

Apple to Buy The Fancy? Why Fancy Crushed Pinterest

Why would Apple be interested in buying The Fancy and not Pinterest? Simple. The Fancy has a monetization strategy. Brands are able to promote products on The Fancy homepage, and customers are encouraged to add items the Fancy to a shopping cart and buy directly through the site. The Fancy generates revenue for brands and itself. Pinterest does not.

Business Insider reported over the weekend that Apple is interested in buying The Fancy. If Apple does buy The Fancy, this will be a nail in the coffin for Pinterest. While Pinterest may have the dedication of middle America, an Apple owned The Fancy will have the hearts and wallets of the affluent.

Why would Apple be interested in buying The Fancy and not Pinterest? Simple: The Fancy has a monetization strategy. Brands are able to promote products on The Fancy homepage, and customers are encouraged to add items to a shopping cart and buy directly through the site. The Fancy generates revenue for brands and itself; Pinterest does not.

While Pinterest has proven a great traffic driver, brands are ultimately interested in driving sales. The Fancy was designed with a dual purpose: to drive brand awareness and sales.  Another Business Insider post reported that The Fancy is generating more than $10,000 daily in sales for the brands promoting their goods on the site.

Another great reason for Apple to purchase The Fancy is that both appeal to a higher income consumer willing to pay more for products with great design.

So, why should you as a marketer care about Apple’s acquisition of The Fancy? Months back, we contacted The Fancy and were advised that only a few brands per week receive email and homepage promotion.

At that time, there was a waiting period of a month to schedule a promotion. Once Apple purchases The Fancy, their already considerable traffic could potentially explode among the highly desirable wealthy, design conscious consumer and every brand will want to be promoted there.

If the brand you represent is interested in a promotion on The Fancy, we have a tip from The Fancy founder Joseph Einhorn: make sure you have “wicked” photos. According to Einhorn, photos on The Fancy are everything. Editorial style shots of your product will ensure good sales performance on the site.

Now is a great time to get the brand you represent in line for a promotion on The Fancy, and you will make your client look brilliant for being in early.

Apple Patents Videogame Controller: Why This Is Huge News

Earlier this week, news broke that Apple had patented a wireless videogame controller for use with its iPhone, iPod and Apple TV platforms. At this point, details about the controller and information on its release are scarce to non-existent. But make no mistake – this is huge news. An Apple game controller has the potential to change the videogame industry, from the games we play to the major players involved.

With casual games – a market Nintendo essentially invented with the Wii, only to see it stolen by mobile devices with titles like Angry Birds – touch screen controls were the gateway entrance for people who found classic game controllers to hard a hill to climb. At the same time, touch screen controls have also been a turn off to the still-large hardcore gamers audience; they just don’t offer the same precision that a controller with a joystick and buttons can. But now that an official Apple controller will be released, there is a chance that the hardcore will spend more time with mobile games, maybe taking a significant chunk of that audience away from console-makers. Not only that, but mobile games may evolve due to the option of the controller, offering a more console-like gaming experience that will appeal directly to the hardcore. It’s something that Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo should be worried about.

Perhaps most importantly, however, is the fact that the controller makes Apple more of a force in the videogame arena than ever before. Fans have wondered why Apple had yet to develop a game console and enter the market, or at least do something. This is that something. The truth is, with the proliferation of mobile gaming via the iPhone and iPad, Apple were surprise entrants into gaming, but this puts them in more direct competition with The Big 3. As videogames move towards a cloud-based future, the controller puts Apple in a position to play a role in the gaming landscape. And if Apple TV is home to console-quality, cloud-based gaming, they could truly change the industry.

That is, of course, if it’s actually released. Time will tell.

5 Awesome Internet Fan Films


One of the great benefits of the combined emergence of YouTube and DIY digital special effects is the popularization of the fan film: a short movie or fake trailer starring some of pop culture’s biggest IPs. Here are some of our favorites.

One of the great benefits of the combined emergence of YouTube and DIY digital special effects is the popularization of the fan film: a short movie or fake trailer starring some of pop culture’s biggest IPs, lovingly made (with zero permission from the rights holders) and produced. They often have startlingly good results, nailing the characterizations, beats and feel of the comics, games, books, movies or whatever else it is they’re adapting. Here are some of our favorites.

Batman: Dead End (aka Batman Vs. Predator)

Batman: Dead End is matched only by the Rocksteady Batman videogames and Batman: The Animated Series in its ability to truly capture the look and feel of the best Batman comics and bring them to life. Directed by Sandy Collora in 2003, it’s an amazing feat of storytelling, action and makeup, as Batman squares off against the Joker, Predator, and another special guest. One of the most popular fan films ever, and for good reason.


Similar in feel to Batman: Dead End, Superman/Batman is a love letter to both heroes. The authenticity here is astonishing; several shots are taken straight from Alex Ross’ artwork, and the titular heroes themselves seem as if they stepped right out from one of the comic book artist’s paintings. The plot is a loose adaptation of the “Public Enemies” storyline, but works in a lot more (the Lois/Clark/Superman love triangle, the interplay and differences between Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent). Great stunts, choreography and building tension. Maybe an actual Superman/Batman movie could work?

PAC-MAN The Movie (The Fan Film) (aka Project Yellow Sphere)

Pac-Man will always be one of the best videogames of all time, but it has never really had any appeal beyond its core gameplay. Which is why this short film, written and directed by James Farr, is all the more incredible. PAC-MAN The Movie is a marvel of special effects and compelling story, presenting Pac-Man as a kind of friendly lab creation (think the Iron Giant in the shape of a small yellow circle that eats pellets and cherries), and his ghost-eating romps are actually training sessions. Somehow, you come out of this dazzled and loving Pac-Man the character, which has never really happened in any medium before, including the games.

The Legend of Zelda

This maybe stretches the definition of “fan film,” as it was made by IGN Entertainment as an April Fool’s prank, but it would be unfair to leave out. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, is one of the most beloved games of all time, and the idea of a big-budget film adaptation is actually feasible; the Zelda series is the closest games have come to something like Lord of the Rings. This fake trailer pays loving tribute to the franchise and fans’ ideal adaptation, with the costumes and characters all looking and sounding just like they do in the game, in addition to some impressive looking “bosses.” Too bad it was all a gag, but maybe Hollywood will wise up one day.


No list of internet fan films would be complete without a Star Wars entry. Saber, written and directed by Adam Green, is the story of two women who end up in a lightsaber duel after trying to pick up the same guy. It’s a little risque, but very, very funny, with great editing, reaction shots, and effects – in a way, it captures everything great about Star Wars. Saber deservedly won the 2009 Fan Movie Challenge by Lucasfilm, and a sequel has been announced.

Summer Movies 2012: New Highs in Viral Marketing

batman and prometheus viral marketing

Viral and social media marketing are commonplace for pretty much everything now, but have become essential for summer movies. Whether it’s a Facebook presence or a sly viral campaign, getting people excited about your movie now happens in the digital space more than any other. Here are two movies with the most creative viral campaigns of the summer.


prometheus viral campaign

There’s been a steady release of Prometheus (the maybe it is, maybe it isn’t Alien prequel by director Ridley Scott) trailers that have been whetting the appetites of sci-fi nerds everywhere. Yet the marketing team has done a lot more. There’s the fun Facebook app, “Discovering Prometheus,” which allows you to click on floating orbs, added each week, that contain new info such as images, character bios and more. There’s the unprecedented Prometheus Viral campaign, featuring online-only videos with major characters and special effects. But nothing is perhaps better than Ridley Scott’s short film introducing major Prometheus/Alien character, Peter Weyland, that debuted/took place (in 2023) at the TED Conference. It’s art, it’s social commentary and it’s also a nifty piece of movie marketing. Brilliant.

The Dark Knight Rises

batman viral marketing campaignThe Dark Knight Rises has taken another path in getting people excited (as if they weren’t enough already): audience participation. In a really fun campaign, Warner Brothers announced a new trailer on, but to see it, fans needed to help the Gotham City Police Department in tracking down the Caped Crusader. (Remember, at the end of The Dark Knight, Batman is on the run from the police.)  It started with an arrest warrant posted online, and then fans were asked to track down bat-signal graffiti from all over the world. Warner provided the addresses, and the fans found them (perhaps unsurprisingly, they did so pretty quickly). Deceptively simple, but engaging.

batman viral campaignAbove: One of the first graffiti finds by Twitter user @Yashasmitta.

The “Gave It A Good Try” Award Goes To:

Men In Black III

The Men In Black saga has been gone a long time, but with its conspiracy/secret-aliens-among-us themes, it’s kind of perfect for today’s viral and social trends. And that’s exactly the route its marketing has taken. A YouTube account under the name Bugeyes126 popped up, in which a kid (Bugeyes) discusses his conspiracy theories about government agents in black suits and the aliens they track. It never really caught on (there are 45 (!) videos under the account, with most only getting a couple hundred views), and probably for a couple of reasons: the kid seems like he’s acting, which kinda spoils the fun, and there’s not enough of an incentive to really invest any time with the videos. Could’ve been fun. Maybe next time.

New YouTube Changes Present Opportunity for Marketers

Long known as the destination for time killing quick videos of waterskiing squirrels, biting babies and Bieber, YouTube now wants to be thought of as a true alternative to traditional cable. With the controversial changes to YouTube’s homepage firmly in place, users are now encouraged to not just watch the latest viral video, but to subscribe to entire channels. So how can marketers benefit from YouTube’s changes?

YouTube wants to change the way consumers think about YouTube. Long known as the destination for time killing quick videos of waterskiing squirrels, biting babies and Bieber, YouTube now wants to be thought of as a true alternative to traditional cable.

With the controversial changes to YouTube’s homepage firmly in place, users are now encouraged to not just watch the latest viral video, but to subscribe to entire channels. YouTube is also calling on content producers to switch gears and create regularly scheduled content, instead of sensational one-offs.

So how can marketers benefit from YouTube’s changes?

Approach your brand’s YouTube content strategy the same way as  Facebook or Twitter content. In social media marketing, it is well known that regularly scheduled Facebook and Twitter content drives engagement. No brand creates a Facebook page with the intention of creating one or two great posts a year, but many brands do exactly that on YouTube. Now that YouTube is promoting channels instead of single videos, your channel needs regularly scheduled programming.

Choose a schedule and stick to it. Commit to a schedule, whether it is monthly, biweekly or weekly and follow through. Imagine if MadMen was scheduled to air Sunday night and there you are all snuggled down to watch the drama unfold on AMC, only to be presented with an old western movie. How would you feel? When subscribers come to depend on your brand’s content, they will look forward to your next video. If you promise new videos every Wednesday at 6pm, if there is no content up at that time you could be in for negative comments.

Ask for your viewers help. Asking viewers to subscribe and share is an important part of getting your video seen by more people. Make YouTube’s new focus on channel subscriptions, your focus too and your brand will have the best chance of YouTube homepage glory.

Top Food Trucks on Twitter: Serving Up a Side of Tweets

Serving up mean meals on wheels is a big trend in the food industry. With the growing population of food trucks, some of them are taking advantage of Twitter to interact with their customers and we’re sharing our top five picks!

We think you’d agree that in the past 2 years there has been a growing population of gourmet food trucks, and it’s just by seeing them in your neighborhood.  We’re fans of getting gourmet bites on the go and really like the fact they take the stigma out of the term “street meat.”  Although, not gonna lie, they can also be tasty after a night out (just sayin’).

With that being said, there are food trucks that use social media marketing to their advantage. Sharing their whereabouts, promotions and just plain old engaging with foodies on Twitter.  Not only making it fun to eat when you visit them, but also fun to watch the personalities behind the truck come alive on Twitter.  Allowing them to build a relationship with consumers and even build a new following through word of tweet.

Here are our top picks for tweeting food trucks to follow as great examples of building a brand voice and serving up great food and customer service on Twitter.

Ben & Jerry’s (@BenJerrysTruck)

Known for their delightful treats, Ben & Jerry’s offers fun flavor mixtures and unique names (remember the headliner Schweddy Balls?).  Their food truck is currently on a US tour serving up free offerings of their new Greek Frozen Yogurt flavors based on your tweets, using “FREE Ben & Jerry’s Greek Frozen Yogurt! Please bring #omgfreebenjerrys to me!”  To explain the example given, this tweet was on Shakespeare’s birthday, and in his honor, Ben and Jerry’s decided to tweet Elizabethan ice cream quips for the day. To eat ice cream or not to eat ice cream, that is the question.

Red Hook Lobster Pound (@Redhooklobster)

Known for dishing out mouth watering fresh lobster from Maine onto buttery rolls, Redhook Lobster Pound has trucks in both DC and NY.  When you have great food, doesn’t it come along with great conversation?  That is exactly what’s going on with Redhook Lobster, only via Twitter.  They not only share the locales of their DC and NY trucks but apparently like to work to James Brown.  Not to name names, but some people in our office like to listen to 98 degrees (not it).

Wafels & Dinges (@waffletruck)

Wafels & Dinges takes Belgian waffles to the next level, offering a variety of toppings to select or by choosing one (or two) of their concoctions on the menu.  We love how they not only engage with their customers, but offer unique ways for customers to receive a free dinge.  Where am I?  Can we have a dinge now?

Korilla BBQ (@KorillaBBQ)

You may recognize the men behind Korilla BBQ from Food Network’s The Great Food Truck Race, and boy, do they serve up some mean Korean BBQ.  The grillmastas have recently made the 30 Under 30: NYC’s Hottest Up and Comers and have big personalities to go with it.  They share a behind-the-scenes look on Twitter along with news and updates on their whereabouts.  Note to self: Don’t get caught sleeping during meetings or it will just go viral.

Big Gay Ice Cream (@biggayicecream)

Due to the popularity of Big Gay Ice Cream truck for not only serving amazing ice cream cones with over-the-top toppings but also for their bold personality in person and on Twitter, they opened a shop in the East Village last summer.  Just by reading  their tweets, you can’t help but feel as though you’ve known them for ages.  If you’re lucky to catch them at the right time, you can even see the fun back-and-forth banter between them and Travel Channel‘s Anthony Bourdain, along with his wife Ottavia.

What food trucks do you follow on Twitter?


Header photo by Donny Tsang.

Google Subway Ads Show the Power of Print

Google Subway Ads

Google subway ads have been popping up in train cars (both in New York and other cities) for awhile now. They’re clever, featuring cartoons and smart copy, promoting or discussing everything from Google+ Circles to privacy tips. They’re traditional; they often appear where one would expect to see a Budweiser or local college ad; and they’re 100% disruptive and successful.

The first time I saw a Google ad (on the F train, coming from Brooklyn), I was surprised  and impressed. On the subway, one usually does one of the three things: reads a book (which takes place more and more on a Nook or Kindle), plays a video game, or zones out listening to music while fiddling with his or her iPhone. They’re mostly activities that take place in the digital landscape, which Google plays a large role in shaping.

Ironic, then, that they rely on one of the oldest forms of advertising to get our attention. And because of that – in addition to the fact that the ads are, well, good – it works. The print ad, in its stillness and marriage of text and image, is still powerful – maybe more powerful than ever. Google realized this.

But it’s that subtle irony of a web innovator using print that makes the ads a real success. You’re surprised to see a print ad from them in the first place and you’re surprised to see one from them on the subway. It’s an added factor that makes the campaign even more compelling.

Here are some snapshots of Google subway ads taken over the last few months.

Google subway ad hello my name is david
Photo by Melanie Phung.

Google subway ad spot the difference
Photo by Melanie Phung.

Google subway ad privacy
Photo by Brooklyn Or Bust.

google subway ad 2 step verification
Photo by Matt Pekar.

What do you think? Are they a success? Do they miss the mark? Let us know in the comments section below.

IFB & Intel’s Inside Generation Style Show

Unique brand and blogger collaboration between Intel and Independent Fashion Bloggers and how the major techology company was able to market to tech-savvy women through a fashion show.

I had the pleasure of attending the Ultra Book (#UltrabookStyle) Inside Generation Style Show hosted by IFB (Independent Fashion Bloggers) and Intel on Wednesday and was immediately intrigued by the creative approach on how a launch of a laptop was incorporated into a fashion show.

In case you’re not aware, IFB was founded in 2007 by Jennine Tam of The Coveted and is a community for fashion bloggers to share their experiences in the blogging scene, offering resources on how to take their blogs to the next level.  They provide helpful articles, host a community linking group, forums and offer a new platform where they can connect bloggers and PR in a safe and mutually beneficial way.

It was definitely a unique approach to showcase their new Ultrabook through a fashion show that not only had bloggers as guests, but were integrated in the actual show.  Well, we all know that bloggers work remotely and need a computer, so the lightweight laptop seemed to be the perfect marriage, even in the beauty and fashion space.  From a marketing perspective, this was a seamless way to not only reach the bloggers but to leverage their cult following readers.  The laptops were featured in the show on the arms of the bloggers (or in their purses) among other sponsors such as Bauble Bar, Arrojo, Kamali Kulture, Just Fabulous and Orla Kiely.

Source: IFB, Photo by Dustin Fenstermacher

You can watch the show here and see for yourself.  What do you think of this brand and blogger collaboration?

Top 7 Things to Do at SXSW (That You Would Never Do at Home)

While the Flightpath team was hard at work going to sessions and networking at the SXSW Interactive conference, we assigned one Flightpath correspondent to concentrate on the other opportunities at SXSW. The ones you probably will not see covered in Mashable, Engadget or the New York Times. The fun ones.

While the Flightpath team was hard at work going to sessions and networking at the SXSW Interactive conference, we assigned one Flightpath correspondent to concentrate on the other opportunities at SXSW. The ones you probably will not see covered in Mashable, Engadget or the New York Times. The fun ones.

Our Fearless Fun Correspondent, Cavol Forbes, was assigned to find 7 opportunities to break out of the role of “agency person at a conference” and go a little crazy.

Here is Cavol’s list of Top 7 Things to Do at SXSW Because There is No Way You Would Ever Do Them at Home:

Ride a Mechanical Bull: It’s Texas, after all. Tip: keep it classy and wear a blazer while riding. One on-looker commented, “You rode that bull elegantly.” Warning: your co-workers will document this and before you know it, your embarrassing moment has gone viral company-wide.

Crowd Surf: Not just for rock stars and athletes anymore. If you’re going to crowd surf, you’ll have to sign a waiver. Don’t read it, just sign; it’ll scare you away.

Go Stemware-Optional: In Austin, the barkeeps (they’re called barkeeps there) are nice and will often offer free booze. Accept at all times! Whenever possible, drink directly from the bottle. While this is not common practice in New York City, in Austin this is perfectly acceptable.

Be the Only One Dancing: People will point, laugh and take pictures. Note: Liquid courage strongly recommended.

Bum a Cigar from a Stranger: In Austin, it’s best to embrace every opportunity you have to be a cowboy for a minute. This extends to manly activities like smoking cigars. However, don’t inhale. You’ll regret it.

Go to a Roller Derby: When you see a sign for a roller derby, it’s best to walk in acting like a regular. Tip to acting like a regular: Don’t be shocked when the roller ref yells “Pillow Fight!” and two women try to smother each other with pillows. Just stomp and cheer for the woman who wins. Tip: You will know who wins because she is the one still breathing.

Eat Street Meat: Hot dog carts in New York are for tourists and construction workers. In Austin, you are a tourist, so eat up and let your co-workers take pictures of you doing it.

How to Design Web Sites and Products for Women – SXSW Session Recap

A tactical mistake that brands and agencies make when marketing products to women online is to take a regular website and “shrink it and pink it”. This means there is little product info, and stereotypes are resorted to which can insult women and alienate men.

Walking through the halls of SXSW its hard not to notice that most attendees are male, since men still outnumber women in tech. This extends to the experience women have on the web. SXSW we attended a really interesting panel by Brad Nunnally and Jessica Ivins titled “Designing Experiences for Women.” In which they discussed how to create web sites for women and how to create products for women.

Women make up 58% of e-commerce shoppers and 80% of online purchases. So it is important to consider how women use sites and products when marketing to them. However, when brands and agencies are tasked with designing a site or launching a product for women there are some classic mistakes that are made.

Case in point, the iPad. Though now it is a household name, we were reminded of all the feminine hygiene jokes that arose when women first heard the name iPad. The presenters questioned whether Apple considered female users or even talked to any woman when developing the name for their new tablet.

A tactical mistake that brands and agencies make when marketing products to women online is to take a regular website and “shrink it and pink it”. This means there is little product info, and stereotypes are resorted to which can insult women and alienate men.

Products that could be used by either gender are marketed to ladies by taking the same product and turning it and it’s accompanying website pink. For instance, Dell made a micro site to sell laptops to women. According to the copy on the site, women could use this laptop to calculate calories, count carbs and look up recipes. The site’s design scheme was also predominately pink. The panel pointed out that not only is this resorting to stereotypes about women, but would alienate men who may want to buy the product.

When designing a site to promote a product for a male audience, the pendulum swings the other way. Brands and agencies have a tendency to “overmanify” sites and marketing campaigns that promote products for men.

For instance, Dr. Pepper 10 is a low calorie soda. In order to market to men the commercial are “overmanified” with phrases like “10 manly calories” and boldly declarations that the soda is “not for women.”

The presenters pointed out that women make up the vast majority of diet soda drinkers and this approach will alienate them, as well as men who may feel the messaging is too stereotypical. They suggested a more gender-neutral approach, which would have wider appeal.

When designing for women avoid myths, stereotypes, and assumptions. One myth is that women do not play video games. The truth is that 75% of casual gamers are women. They tend to be less likely to play a game all day than men, seeking shorter gaming experiences especially on mobile devices.

To avoid stereotypes- check if your site passes the Buchannan test. Do the site images feature women outside of the home? Are images restricted to women in a mother role? Are women featured doing yoga?  Then that is a fail.

By focusing on other activities, brands and agencies can make a stronger connection with women. Stock images of women laughing while they eat salad are just not relatable. Brands and agencies also frequently feature women smiling while doing yoga when promoting an active lifestyle or healthy living brand, women are less likely to be featured playing golf, tennis or running.

Another common myth is that women only take care of children. Women take care of many people other than children. By making social sharing prominent on a site, this encourages sharing of site information. Women take on a care giving role with adult parents, siblings, co-workers and friends.  They are often researching products and services for others than themselves. Women do not just stay at home with children all day, even if a woman is a stay at home mom she has connections and activities outside of the home. Women will relate to sites that feature women in all the roles they assume, including but not limited to motherhood.

For instance, women often use social sharing to send potential purchases to spouses and friends for approval before they finalize a purchase. By making social sharing prominent on a site, sales increase.

Agencies and brands should put themselves in the shoes of their user. Even if the user is of the opposite gender.

The presenters also discussed visible vs. transparent design. Visible design is obviously geared towards one gender. Such a site can have a gender specific color scheme and copy without worrying about alienating the other gender, since the product is only used by one gender.

The panel used the Gillette Venus razor for women as an example. The product was specifically designed to be used by women in the shower and on legs. The razor was not designed to be used by men for facial shaving, therefore the site’s feminine color scheme and design works.

Transparent design should be used to promote a product that may be used by either gender, even if it is typically used by one gender. Transparent design doesn’t overtly tout one gender. The panel put forward the example of the Nintendo Wii. This product was marketed in a gender-neutral fashion. The imagery includes women, men and children and has been a hit among families.

When designing for women, web developers and even product developers focus on color. Instead of turning a site pink, concentrate on creating a great user experience. Women have a low tolerance for bad design and will abandon a site that they find frustrating.

The panel explained that while men will spend time trying to “conquer” sites or products that take time to figure out, women will not because they are busier and spend more time taking care of others in their life.

Women are also more interested in product descriptions that are direct and inform her of what task the product accomplishes or what benefit it will have to her life or the lives of people she cares about, rather than a list of product specs. Craft product narrative around product features and user benefits instead of specs.

Answering the question, How to design products for women, is a tough one, but a fair one. Final thought from the panel: rather than making beer pink, ask women why they don’t drink beer then design against your findings.


Pinterest vs TheFancy: Social Media Marketing for Brands

Pinterest has grabbed the attention (and free time) of women and a lot of interest from social media marketers, but there is another quietly emerging player in the social bookmarking space. TheFancy is a visually stunning collection of the coolest images and products from around the web.

Pinterest has grabbed the attention (and free time) of women and a lot of interest from social media marketers, but there is another quietly emerging player in the social bookmarking space.

TheFancy is a visually stunning collection of the coolest images and products from around the web. Instead of adding images to boards like on Pinterest, users “fancy” images and add them to categories for others to view and “fancy” as well.

Users share images the same way on both sites.  Retailers can add Pinterest and TheFancy buttons to images to encourage users to share, but since both sites are relatively new most images come through users clicking a “Pin It” or “Fancy It” button in their browser’s toolbar.

Pinterest and TheFancy differ in the flavor of what is shared. Pinterest has an undeniably feminine Etsy-esque feel. The majority of Pinterest users are women, and as a result there are a lot of home décor, recipes and children’s product shots shared on the site.

TheFancy has a more unisex, urban, minimalist, high-design feel. The differences between each site’s content are obvious when you look at the brands that have a presence on each. Brands currently on Pinterest: Cabot Cheese, Lands’ End and Paula Deen. Brands on TheFancy: Brooklyn Industries, Williams-Sonoma, and Yves St. Laurent.

If you represent a luxury fashion, home décor, or tech brand then adding products to TheFancy is a smart marketing move, because unlike Pinterest- TheFancy is openly working with brands to drive sales through the site.

On Pinterest, if a user (including the brands that have set up Pinterest accounts) posts a price within a pinned image’s description, the price will appear as a banner in the corner of the image. Pinterest will then automatically pull the pinned image into the gifts category on the site. This is great, however Pinterest wants to keep users within Pinterest and is not at this time making it easy for users to leave the site.

In order to reach the original site to make a purchase, Pinterest users have to click pinned images twice. Some users I have talked to were unaware that they could even do this, since when an image is clicked once users are taken to a page where they are encouraged to like, repin or comment on the image within the Pinterest site. There is no prompt or link for Pinterest users to leave Pinterest and visit the original site. Pinterest has been designed as a social media destination.

TheFancy on the other hand, has been designed to easily move users to original sites for product purchase. When an image is clicked in TheFancy, users are presented with a “Buy It” link on the right hand side. Clicking this link will take the user to the original site where that product may be purchased. This is a great feature since the whole focus of the site is discovering products that you may never come across in a retail store.

Users can also unlock special deals from retailers by clicking “Fancy It” on their product photos. These special deals are typically discount codes that can be used at checkout on the retailer’s site. Current deals offered to TheFancy users are featured within a Deals tab at the top of the page, which makes it easy for TheFancy users to find. There is also an easy to find list of retailers on TheFancy, something which is missing on Pinterest at least at the moment.

TheFancy also seems to be here to stay. With significant investment from the French fashion firm PPR, who owns brands such as Gucci, Alexander McQueen Gucci, Bottega Veneta, Yves Saint Laurent and Balenciaga, as well as Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey who is also on the start-up’s board. Yves Saint Laurent announced on Jan. 30th that Fancy buttons will be on every page of the brand’s website.

For social media marketers looking to ride the surge in social bookmarking site popularity, especially to promote luxury and boutique brands- TheFancy is one site to hop on.

Shazam Ads Succeed Where QR Codes Fail

It was around halftime Sunday when I saw the third straight Super Bowl ad with the Shazam logo in the bottom-right corner. I knew Shazam as the app that figured out a song’s title and artist based on a 20 second sample my smartphone recorded. Why is it here? Curious, I whipped out my phone, launched the app and started recording the ad. 20 seconds later, instead of the usual screen disclosing the song and artist info, I saw this.

Curious to see what others thought of this repurposing of the app, I searched out “Shazam” on Twitter. Some people liked it; others compared it to a marketing gimmick that was all too recent.

For the uninitiated, the QR code is a kind of barcode. Advertisers like to stick these complex network of squares on their ads in the hopes that users scan them with their smartphones. Once the phones scan these codes, they are taken to a page with more information about the advertised product. The problem is, most advertisers are lazy and unimaginative with their implementation of QR. They link the QR codes to URLs already mentioned on the ad, place the codes in locations where Internet signals are scarce (most infamously, the New York City Subway), and haven’t done a good job educating the public about the technology.

Like QR codes and other marketing gimmicks, the novelty could fade fast. The standard 30 second ad is a tad short for something that requires you to take out your phone, unlock it, open an app, and wait several seconds to capture a sample. And forget about trying to use this in a loud, crowded bar.

In spite of these drawbacks, I could still see a place for Shazam-enhanced ads when it comes to generating interest.

We’re Acquainted

Unlike QR codes, Shazam is already popular. QR codes began life as an invention by Toyota to track inventory. Shazam is a popular service people use to identify songs. It already has a head start in penetration because so many people enjoy it for its primary use. The image of that soft blue icon with a white “S” over a black circle needs no introduction. There’s a familiarity — a cue that we should be tagging whatever is on screen — something the alien-looking QR code just can’t attain.

We’re Curious

So, we see that icon we know so well, but there is no music playing. Just an ad. There is no readily available context, either. No announcers telling you to tag this commercial to win prices or music. Instead, all the viewer sees is what looks to be an out-of-place icon in ads for Pepsi, Toyota, Best Buy, etc. Naturally, I had to tag these ads when they came on. I was too curious.

The icon’s placement in these ads is the opposite of what we expect. None of the products advertised had anything to do with music or albums. So, why was the icon there? The ad wasn’t going to tell us. We had to go and hunt it down ourselves.

We Like Easter Eggs

What do video games and Easter egg hunts have in common? Both tap into that human desire to discover something. For decades, the video game industry has been sneaking hidden characters, stories and content into its products. They call them “Easter eggs” — hidden things designed to be just barely discoverable.

Advertisers like to use QR codes to link to the product’s URL, even if that URL is a few inches away from the code. There’s no imagination or creativity. And by now, the few of us who know what QR codes do are conditioned to believe they’re a waste of our time to scan for this very reason.

The Shazam interface doesn’t allow for this lack of originality. A successful tag never takes you to someone’s homepage. Instead, you go to a screen where Shazam gives you data on the sound sample you just tagged. In the case of the Super Bowl, advertisers seem to only have the option to place special content on this screen, like a video, a sweepstakes entry form, or an MP3 download. Unlike QR codes, they need to give you an Easter egg to reward your curiosity.

Many have heard of Shazam, but not enough people use it so that everyone knows what to do when the icon appears on TV. There’s something thrilling in it, as you feel like you’re one of the first to download this app which lets you see the pastel blue egg behind the couch before the rest of the family.

See You at the Grammys

As mentioned before, this kind of ad wouldn’t have much of a place during regular programming, but maybe that’s not the point. Perhaps a better use for these campaigns would be for special events where companies typically buy longer spots and users get enough time to tag the ads. With Shazam-enhanced ads planned for the Grammy Awards on February 12th, we won’t have long before we see if the spots find success in engaging consumers where the QR codes failed.

Ferris Bueller Super Bowl Commercial & Social Media: Honda Fumbles the Snap

Ferris Bueller Super Bowl Commercial

When the mystery teaser for a Matthew Broderick/Ferris Bueller Super Bowl commercial dropped last week, the Internet’s collective head almost exploded. Could it be? Finally, a sequel to Ferris Bueller, one of the most beloved movies of the ’80s? And we’d see the trailer at the Super Bowl? Not even a Clockwork Orange-style forced viewing of the abysmal Ferris Bueller TV show could dampen the excitement.

Then, the full ad was posted online before the Super Bowl. And the air was let out of the Internet’s balloon.

It was revealed to be an advertisement not for a Ferris Bueller sequel, but for the Honda CR-V. In the new advertising environment created by social media, Super Bowl ads are now being teased with previews, then released online before the game (see Volkswagen’s Star Wars themed commercials from this year and last, as well), making the actual airing during the Super Bowl a kind of non-event. The point is to drum up more interest, more hype, and make it last. But what about if it backfires?

I argue that it did backfire with the Ferris Bueller ad, because people were genuinely let down when they learned there was no sequel coming. This isn’t to say that the ad is not successful or people don’t like it – there are just as many positive comments as negative ones (thousands) on YouTube, and it is really well done (special props for the “I Am the Walrus” callback). But instead of being surprised or delighted by seeing this for the first time during the Super Bowl – as would have happened in years past – the general consensus after the online reveal was basically, “Oh…it’s a car commercial?” And then no one really cared about its airing during the actual game at all.

If there’s a lesson, it’s that presenting things in the right context and at the right time is more important than ever thanks to social media. Since the teaser did not even show a car, it could only disappoint people to find that there was no new Ferris Bueller movie coming. And would the ad’s shelf life have been longer if they didn’t tease it and didn’t release the entire thing online before the Super Bowl? For brands, knowing when to push things via social is essential to sticking the landing in modern advertising.

Interview: Jessica Chobot of G4 and IGN – Part 2

jessica chobot

Concluding Flightpath’s two-part interview (in case you missed it, here’s part one) with Jessica Chobot of G4 and IGN, the videogame and tech reporter talks the impact of smartphones on portable gaming, when we’ll know games have really been accepted into the mainstream, and why she sometimes enjoys checking out bad games just as much as the good ones.

Flightpath: Portable gaming is in a weird place right now, especially with smartphones having a bigger impact and being more of a threat to Nintendo and Sony than anyone may have thought. Where do you see the portable gaming industry going in relation to what’s happening with smartphone games?

Jessica Chobot: I think you’re gonna always have a market for handheld consoles in regards to PS Vita and 3DS and DS in general. But I don’t know if that market will grow beyond what it already has within it. The console market for portables, in that regard, I think might be cornered, because of the fact that the games on things like the iPad or your smartphone are getting to the point where they’re just as entertaining or just as beautiful or just as good. And [they are] a little bit more available for your everyday person that might not consider themselves a gamer, but doesn’t realize that they’ve spent 50 hours playing Farmville or Infinity Blade. So I don’t think that the handheld market is necessarily going to go away, I just think that maybe it’s going to continue on the path that it already has established. And if anything, because of those systems having to keep up with things like the iPad, [they’re adapting]. An example would be the PS Vita – now it has apps and it’s starting to develop ways within itself to compete with tablets and phones and things of that nature. It would be interesting to see what would happen to it maybe in the next 10 years versus like, the next three. I think there needs to be a little bit more time and better defined lines of what games on tablets can do versus what games on portable consoles can do.

Flightpath: I think a lot of gamers feel that games don’t earn enough respect. I think back to Roger Ebert saying games are not art, and the reaction against him online was very strong. But I think they’ve arrived in the mainstream, especially since there’s a channel like G4.

Jessica Chobot: I think they’re becoming more and more respected, obviously because of the accessibility of casual games – even though I hate that phrase – that you’d find on your smartphones and iPads. It’s introducing that world to a whole new group of people that might not have given videogames the time of day before. By giving them even just that small little intro through a Japan Life or a Sims game or an Angry Birds game – or however they end up find themselves within this group of gamers that they might not have ever thought of themselves in – they’re also going to have an understanding and respect for the other gamers that are really involved, that have the PlayStation 3, the PS Vita, the Wii U.

What I’d like to see is that videogames are no longer used for an excuse when bad things happen in society. Once that goes away, that’ll in my mind, be the height of when videogames have earned that respect. And I think they’re on that way because of the fact that games are accessible and open to more people, and the people that grew up with things like an NES, the original PlayStation, the Dreamcast and the first Xbox – those people are getting older and having families of their own and they used to play all the time, and they understand that there’s nothing to be afraid of.

Flightpath: The same thing happened with comics and with rock n’ roll.

Jessica Chobot: Rock n’ roll’s my favorite example. Everybody’s like, “I can’t believe these groups of kids nowadays! They’re shooting up their schools because they’re playing too much Gears of War!” That’s the exact same argument that you, when you were a teenager, would get angry about in regards to your parents saying that Elvis couldn’t be shown from the hips down, because all the girls were going to burst out into whoredom. It’s ridiculous. It’s absolutely ridiculous. So to me, that will be the ultimate sign of respect from society, is when society stops using videogames as an excuse for when something goes wrong within it.

As far as games not being art, it’s not even worth arguing with [Ebert] about, because in my mind he’s completely wrong. He’s just wrong. I don’t understand where he thinks the images from within games and advertising work comes from. I don’t even understand that. And I believe the Smithsonian actually has a section or has declared that videogames are art, and they’re actually accepting videogame conceptual art pieces. So yeah, when the Smithsonian says it’s okay, I think Ebert should just learn to be quiet. Of course, he backtracked. It was a completely ignorant statement on his part, and it just goes to show the generation gap.

Flightpath: It reminds me of what Pete Townsend once said about rap music. He didn’t say whether he liked it or not, but he said something like, “It’s just our generation’s job to get out of the way.” I thought that was very smart.

Jessica Chobot: Yeah. Even if he was to say he doesn’t like it, it’s fine to have an opinion and not like something. But it’s not okay to dismiss it across the board. Everybody’s allowed their opinion, but it’s another thing to just make a flat out statement and say everybody else is wrong and you’re right.

jessica chobotFlightpath: Reviews for videogames, particularly online, tend to have a real importance for both the market and for developers. Maybe more than any other entertainment or arts field. Why do you think that is?

Jessica Chobot: That’s a good question. It’s kind of a double-edged sword. They’re paid so much attention to because usually the people who are writing the reviews are hardcore fans themselves. Because they are such fans themselves, they really can speak the same language and reach out to the demographic that’s going to read them. Maybe I’m the exception to the rule, but I very rarely buy or not buy a game based off of somebody’s review. I’ll definitely read reviews just because I just want to hear what the game is about and what their experience was. But if I’m curious about that game, I will remain curious about that game and I’ll still go out and buy it even if that person eventually says you shouldn’t. Sometimes I buy it just because they say I shouldn’t and I’m like, “Oh, why is it so bad?” [Laughs]

Flightpath: The Mystery Science Theater 3000 aspect.

Jessica Chobot: Yeah, totally. And a lot of the people that I know still do that too. They’ll read the reviews and they’ll educate themselves. But at the end of the day they make the final decision. So I don’t know. Maybe the reason that the reviews are so taken to heart is just because these people are speaking the same language and they’re gamers the same as you and I, and they can walk the walk and talk the talk. So whether you agree with them or not, you’re still interested in what they have to say. And that’s probably both good and bad.

Gaming journalism went through a phase a couple years back – and it’s still there, it’ll never really go away – of self-importance and for lack of a better phrase, [an] “our shit doesn’t stink” attitude, and how they’re entitled to know everything upfront. That, I’m glad to see, has kind of fallen by the wayside. Because at the end of the day, this is a business. It’s a great, awesome, fun business, but it is a business. And people’s jobs are on the line, and people’s reputations are on the line, and they’ve got families that they’re raising now so they need these paychecks. To have that kind of fanboy-flaming reporting on games is not the best way to approach it.

Flightpath: What’s a typical day like at G4 for you?

Jessica Chobot: It’s kind of the same as it was when I was with IGN. I’ll just get assigned certain things and I’ll do the research on them, whether it’s reading articles that other people have written and then playing the game myself, if it involves games. The biggest difference between IGN and G4 for me is that at IGN, I pretty much covered mostly games, and what was going on in the gaming industry. G4, I cover a little bit more about the culture as well. We [just] did a shoot with Gentle Giant, and we did a shoot with a DJ – things that aren’t necessarily about videogames, but people into videogames might also be into these things. So that’s cool. It actually has helped to do a little bit more and not lock me into one particular thing. A lot of what I’m doing over at G4 is less studio-based and a little bit more out-and-about and interacting with people and kind of on-the-fly, which I also really like. Because as much as I enjoyed doing The Daily Fix over at IGN, I was very limited as far as the personality I could bring across, because I have three minutes to tell you the news and that’s it. Whereas at these events for G4 where I’m going out there and reporting on stuff, I can have a little bit more of my personality come out and show people what it is about these things that I also find interesting and fun. So that’s nice.

Flightpath: Is it different shooting things that are going out on TV as opposed to the Web? Do you feel more nervous or present yourself on camera differently?

Jessica Chobot: I actually find working for TV a little bit easier. At the end of the day, a dot com is a dot com, and you’ve got smaller budgets and limited resources as far as who’s available to help shoot and put together a production. Whereas a TV station, that is what they’re dedicated to, and so it makes things a little bit smoother.

But as far as me being in front of the camera and nervous and things like that, no. That’s actually not there. If anything, it’s making me improve faster because now I feel like there’s more of a variety of demographic watching me versus just hardcore gamers. And so I’ve got to learn to approach things that also then allows those people to be included in what it is I’m talking about. So I’ve learned to still have that fanboyism that I have for certain things, but try and make it as open to anybody that wants to view it.

Flightpath: And what can we look forward to in 2012 from Jessica Chobot on G4 or anywhere else?

Jessica Chobot: There’s some things coming out that are gonna be announced soon that I can’t necessarily talk about, but definitely keep your eyes peeled because they’re pretty awesome. Both in a videogame sense [Chobot was revealed to be playing a character featuring her own likeness in Mass Effect 3 shortly after this interview. – Dan] and in a non-videogame related sense. The one thing about doing what I do now is I’m able to go out and do things that aren’t even related to videogames at all, and that’s working out well, also.

And then within G4, I’ll definitely be doing more reporting for them, for both X-Play and for Attack of the Show, and covering games and culture. I think we’ve got a couple of Rad Jobs segments coming up, and then also some of the games that I got to see at CES will be showing up – hands-on [time] with Bioware and the Kinect and how Mass Effect works with that, and then the Wii U, I finally got some hands-on time with. All that stuff is pretty interesting.

So, there’s some things coming. [Sighs] Oh, how can I say it? Just really keep your eyes peeled in the next month. [Laughs]

Interview: Ethan Nicolle, Co-Creator of Axe Cop – Part 2

Ethan and Malachai Nicolle

In the conclusion of our two-part interview (in case you missed part 1, you can find it here) with comic book artist and writer Ethan Nicolle, co-creator of Axe Cop and creator of Bearmageddon, we discuss his younger brother’s inevitable growing up and what that means for Axe Cop, why playtime isn’t much fun to talk about, and how Bearmageddon – an awesome mashup of B-movie horror, comic book action and smart comedy – still has heartfelt, real-life sentiment.

Flightpath: You mentioned in the commentary during the first Axe Cop trade paperback that at a certain point, Malachai is going to reach an age where he’s a little more conscious of the comic and he’s going to change, like all kids do. Do you think Axe Cop will continue through that, or do you see it coming to an end when the innocent way it’s created can no longer be?

Ethan Nicolle: Yeah, I don’t know. I think one fun aspect of Axe Cop has been that Malachai is constantly changing. Every time I talk to him to come up with new stories, he’s on a whole different kick. He’s grown up a bit more, he’s thinking about different things, his mind is rapidly developing. So I mean, even Axe Cop today is not the same Axe Cop he was two years ago when we created him. [Laughs] It’s fascinating to see Axe Cop mature.

I’m just kind of wide open to whatever. We probably will take a break here and there, and we’ve kind of been taking a break. I’m working on Axe Cop material I got from him back in April, I got a bunch of material for a new miniseries and stuff. So we talk on the phone maybe once or twice a month, and that’s about all we do together on it right now. It’s all me drawing all the stuff that we got.

Yeah, so I don’t know what comes next. We’ll feel it out. At some point we’ll go, “You know, this is kind of tired. So we should give it a rest or shut the door.”

Ask Axe Cop #2Flightpath: The Internet can sometimes be an ugly place in terms of comments and people trolling. There’s a lot of positivity around Axe Cop, but I’m sure you get the occasional jerk. I’m guessing you can take it, but do you shield Malachai from that?

Ethan Nicolle: He hardly ever even reads comments. He doesn’t even get why people want to sit there and talk about it. Once an episode is done, he’s done and on to the next thing. A lot of people want to interview him, and he doesn’t say much when they interview him, because he doesn’t understand why you want to sit there and talk about it when you’re done.

He just sees it as playtime. So if you play with a kid, and then two days later you go, “Let’s talk about playtime the other day. What made you think about that? How’d you come up with that?” It’s like, “What? Why don’t we just keep playing? Why do we have to talk about it?” [Laughs] I don’t think that’s even on his radar right now.

There’s an occasional curmudgeon on the Internet that freaks out and writes a blog about how stupid Axe Cop is and how he hates kids, and the guy just usually looks so ridiculous. He just looks so miserable – the person that writes it is always a guy – he just looks so angry, you kind of feel sorry for him. And usually there’s always a big reaction from people defending Axe Cop, which is great, but not required. So I mean, it happens every once in awhile, but I’ve actually been impressed. I don’t know if we’ve had any trolls on I don’t think we really have. There’s been a couple of people who’ve used bad language and I just deleted the comment. But other than that, people have been really respectful and I’ve been really impressed.

Flightpath: As it’s gotten more successful, I’m guessing a whole other set of responsibilities have come your way – merchandising and marketing.

Ethan Nicolle: That’s one of the tough things. I can only put so much time into that. I might be able to accomplish more if I could clone myself. One thing that’s definitely helped has been that I now have a licensing company, Surge Licensing. They did all the licensing on the Ninja Turtles originally, and they’re huge Axe Cop fans, they love it. They’ve gotten a few things off the ground – they got a Halloween costume made, some tee-shirt deals, and the big thing that we got recently was Munchkin Axe Cop from Steve Jackson Games. It was really successful, and they said it was one of their bestselling Munchkin games. That’s been awesome.

My online store is something that started out of necessity. I was dirt poor, I had no job when Axe Cop hit. I had had two jobs, and I had been laid off from both in the same week, about a month earlier. It’s really what made me able to dive into Axe Cop as a job, because even though it was getting tons of exposure, no one was paying anything for it.

Flightpath: Is there any chance we might see Axe Cop action figures at some point?

Ethan Nicolle: We’ve come close a couple of times. You’d think at the point we’ve gotten, that you’re gonna see something. There’s nothing for sure right now, but I just feel like there’s gotta be eventually. I mean, it’s an easy action figure, right? [Laughs]

Flightpath: Just take one of the old C.O.P.S. toys

Ethan Nicolle: Yeah, just take a C.O.P.S. toy, slap an axe in his hand. We’ve actually had fans make them, and one guy at Comic Con gave one to Malachai at our panel. He still has it and was playing with it at Christmas.

Flightpath: What have you found in terms of monetary support from people who read your comics online? I noticed you have a college fund for Malachai.

Ethan Nicolle: You know, I’d have to talk to my dad, because he gets all the money directly for Malachai on that. I could always check, but I just never do. I don’t think it’s a ton, but it’s a little bit of money here and there. On Bearmageddon I put up “donate and get a free wallpaper,” and I’ve actually been impressed. They have the option of $1, $5 or $10, and the majority have been $5 and $10 donations. That’s really impressed me. We’ve probably had around 50 donations, and most of them have not been $1. There’s a thankfulness that people have online. A certain group are very kind.

Flightpath: And what comes next for Axe Cop?

Ethan Nicolle: There’s a third volume of Axe Cop coming out – I think it’s at the end of February – so I’m looking forward to that. It’s another collection of the online stuff. And then the new Axe Cop miniseries, which I’m working on right now, starts coming out in July. It’s called Axe Cop: President of the World, and it’s funny because we didn’t plan it out, but it’s going to be during the election. [Laughs]

Flightpath: You also have Bearmageddon going right now, and I’m curious how you approach creating a webcomic like that, because it’s one continuous story and not standalone stories.

Ethan Nicolle: It’s actually a script that I wrote. So I wrote the entire story out in film script format, and then I’m doing chunks of pages at a time. I’m working on basically three projects right now. I’m working on Axe Cop the webcomic, then I’m working on the new Axe Cop print-exclusive series that’s a follow-up to Bad Guy Earth, the other one we did with Dark Horse. And then I’m also doing Bearmageddon. I’ll just do a group of pages from each one at a time, and try and keep ahead of all of them, as much as I can. [Laughs]

BearmageddonFlightpath: People should know that Bearmageddon is really not like Axe Cop. It shares certain sensibilities in that it’s funny and it’s violent, but it’s more an adult story.

Ethan Nicolle: Yeah, it’s not for kids. Malachai’s a little mad at me that I’m making a project he can’t read. [Laughs]

Flightpath: What are the plans for Bearmageddon? Will it be going for a long time? Will there be print versions as well?

Ethan Nicolle: It’ll go as long as it takes to tell the story. Depending on how long it is, I might release it in two volumes, or I’ll just release it in one. I haven’t even talked to a publisher at this point because it’s still so early. My guess is that it’s gonna be around 200 to 250 pages. So it’ll still be awhile, because I’m only doing two pages a week.

Flightpath: I noticed in a lot of your work, including Bearmageddon, that there’s a real blend of humor, action and gore. What’s that informed by? What did you enjoy as a kid growing up?

Ethan Nicolle: I grew up on Ninja Turtles and stuff like that, but I did get into independent comics. I was a big fan of SLG [Publishing]. I’ve always had a thing for cheesy movies – Mystery Science Theater, I got into really big-time when I was younger, and that was kind of my gateway drug in getting into really bad movies on my own. I love the really bad violent movies, that are just over-the-top crazy. Stuff like Dead Alive, that are so violent and could never happen in real life. That kind of thing is hilarious to me. I guess I’ve always liked the combination of action/comedy, and I like action/comedy/horror too, which is a genre that I don’t think has been done a whole bunch. Shaun of the Dead is probably the best example. Ghostbusters is good. I like being a little more light-hearted, but still getting to have monsters. Just all the stuff that I love in entertainment. I love action and I love monsters, and I like to laugh.

Flightpath: Not that I know you [Laughs], but there are some elements of Bearmageddon that seem like they could be autobiographical. Particularly the relationship between Joel and his little brother. They seem to have a very warm relationship.

Ethan Nicolle: Yeah, that, for sure. In fact, I think I even wrote a pretty heartfelt blog on Bearmageddon, on one of those pages where he’s talking to the little brother. I was always the oldest brother in my family. I have three brothers total, plus I have two little sisters. And my brothers always looked up to me, and they always treated me like I was a hero of some sort, even if I never deserved it. Before I was ever any sort of success, they treated me like I was already. So it’s special to me, and I see it more now. As I’ve grown up, I look back and go, “Man, I didn’t even appreciate it as a big brother when I was younger.”

Flightpath: Ken, the store manager of Wow Mart, is my favorite character. I just love his put-downs; he seems like he could be a Mr. Show character. Will he be making a return?

Ethan Nicolle: [Laughs] Yes. We will be returning to Wow Mart eventually.

Flightpath: It seems like things have worked out for you in that you’re getting to do webcomics, release a print version later, and also make original graphic novels.

Ethan Nicolle: Yeah, and I always have the book in mind when I make my comics. I’m always thinking ahead to the book. So even if I go, “You know what, this episode is going to be kind of a dud today. It’s not going to be very exciting for people to read this,” I’m thinking ahead to the book. Because that’s going to ultimately be the more important audience. You want it to work more in the book than you do one day on the website.

That was one thought that I had when originally I decided to do webcomics. I went, “You know, there’s a good chance I could expand my audience by a bunch of people. But also there’s a good chance that a bunch of those people won’t buy the book even though they read it for free online. But just say like 10 percent of those people buy the book – it’s probably gonna be a pretty good deal.”

Interview: Ethan Nicolle, Co-Creator of Axe Cop – Part 1

Ethan and Malachai Nicolle

Axe Cop, Avocado Soldier and Uni-Baby. They don’t sound like the names of traditional comic book characters, but then, there’s nothing traditional about the bizarre-yet-brilliant webcomic in which they appear. Launched in 2010 to massive viral success, Axe Cop stars, true to its name, an axe-wielding police officer in adventures featuring vampire ninjas, a T-Rex with Gatling guns for arms, and a female Abraham Lincoln. It is crazy, hilarious stuff, making for one of the most original and downright fun comics in years – online or in print. And if it sounds like it comes from the mind of a child, that’s because it does: Axe Cop is written by 7-year-old Malachai Nicolle and illustrated by his older brother, the Eisner-nominated artist Ethan Nicolle, whose gifts for straight-faced humor, action and storytelling help make the comic so effective. In part one of our two-part interview with the elder Nicolle – also creator of the excellent new Bearmageddon horror/comedy webcomic – we discuss how Axe Cop came to be, how it quickly went viral, and the origins of some particularly strange story details.

Flightpath: I know you were doing creator-owned print comics like Chumble Spuzz before Axe Cop. What led from that to launching a webcomic with Axe Cop?

Ethan Nicolle: Well, I got into comics before the Internet was a big thing. I was in high school still, and the Internet hit when I was around 15 or 16. So, I always thought the way into comics was through a publisher. You gotta get them to print your book, and then they gotta sell it for you. I was always working towards that goal, and I finally accomplished it with SLG Publishing, with my book Chumble Spuzz. I realized that after all that work, they finally print your book and they put it back on a little shelf in the back corner of a comic book store, and very few people are willing to go back and spend the money to actually buy that book and check it out. And I started realizing that my goal wasn’t to make money off that bat like that, my goal was to build an audience; and if I just want people to read it, why not just put it on the Internet? I had planned to do my next book that way, which was Bearmageddon, but then I wasn’t sure how to go about doing a webcomic.

So I wanted to do a practice run first, and I had these Axe Cop comics that I created over Christmas with my brother. We were playing and Malachai wanted to play “Axe Cop,” because he had been given a toy fireman axe but wanted to fight bad guys. As we played, the first episode of Axe Cop happened and it was so funny, I drew it. I ended up drawing the first four episodes during that visit. We were like, “Well, we’ll just throw these up online and make kind of a quick website.” Just to test the functionality and see how people react to the way that we lay it out and everything.

I could never have foreseen the success. Basically, in about two days, it exploded and became my job overnight.

Flightpath: That’s amazing. You did have a lot of critical success though, with Chumble Spuzz. You were nominated for an Eisner.

Ethan Nicolle: Yeah, a little bit. I had an Eisner nomination, it got some great reviews. It’s just that hardly anybody actually read them. The people that did read them loved them, but that was the thing. I was going, “Man, people that actually read this love it. But I can’t get anybody to read it. They don’t want to spend 10 or 11 bucks on it.”

Axe Cop Episode 1Flightpath: So you had some Axe Cop stuff in the can that you did with your brother, and you decided to put it out there. Once you posted it online, you said it became a success in just a couple of days. Did you do anything to actively promote it, or did people somehow find it?

Ethan Nicolle: You know, I had a small amount of fans that followed me at that time from Chumble Spuzz, from the rock band I used to be in. So there was like a handful of fans that any time I posted something, they’d check it out and share it with their friends. We put all the sharing buttons on it, as you usually would do. StumbleUpon, Digg, a Facebook button, all those things. The best I could do, tracing back how it went viral, it was through sites like Reddit and Meta Filter and these sites where a lot of people go on and share stuff. It was just all over those websites, and it all happened kind of in one night. Entertainment Weekly [named it Site of the Day], that was a big one. It was just a really fast climb.

Flightpath: Did you log back in and check the visits? Were people emailing you? What was the signifier that something was going on?

Ethan Nicolle: Well, that night I was actually not even at my house [or] at my computer. I just had my phone, which was receiving emails, and emails started coming in like crazy. “Ask Axe Cop” questions just starting rolling in really fast, and I had my Twitter account set to notify me when a new person started following it, and I just started getting rapid amounts of Follow, Follow, Follow. [Laughs] It was just going crazy. And every time I checked my email, a bunch more emails would be in. It was just rapid fire emails all night. I fell asleep for like three hours that night, and when I woke up there were like another 100 emails in my inbox. It was crazy.

Flightpath: Going into your technique for creating Axe Cop – how exactly does it work with your brother? Do you sit down and guide him through story construction, or do you draw what he’s telling you, as he’s telling it to you?

Ethan Nicolle: There’s lots of different ways that we do it. It really comes down to playtime and kind of an interview. It’s almost like I’m a cop at a crime scene and I’m interviewing him because he’s a witness, and I’m trying to get all the details I can and piece it all together. [Laughs] He tells it to me out of order, and the story constantly changes here and there. So I find the pieces that fit.

The first few episodes, I credited him as “creator.” The first few episodes I never even planned on publishing, it was just something for the family. So I just decided to call him “writer” and me “artist.” But my bigger job beyond just drawing it really is piecing it together, especially as we’ve gotten into these bigger projects, where [there’s] a full-on big story. It’s the part of the project that’s, I don’t want to say a headache, but it’s a real struggle, you know? [Laughs]

Flightpath: Do you see his storytelling chops evolving as you do more and more of these?

Ethan Nicolle: Yeah, he gets the hang of certain things. Earlier on, I would have to try and explain, “For it to be a good story, we need something bad to happen, so that something good can happen and we can be happy.” So I’ll try and find out, “Do any good guys get killed? Does anything bad happen to the good guys?” One thing I just started doing was have us pretend to be bad guys, so that we’d actually start inflicting lots of damage on the good guys. So if I keep switching sides of Malachai, because a lot of it’s role playing, he’d give me what I wanted. It’s not that I want him to come up with a specific outcome of the story and repeat it back to me, but I just look at the story and go, “This needs a big fight here, it needs some kind of conflict.” Just a general idea. And I ask him questions until I have a full story, basically.

Flightpath: There are a couple of recurring themes or motifs in Axe Cop, and I wanted to get your opinion on them and where they come from.

Ethan Nicolle: [Laughs] Okay.

Flightpath: I noticed there are lots of decapitations.

Ethan Nicolle: [Laughs] Yeah. If you think about kids playing with toy swords and just fighting each other, they’re fake fighting, swinging the swords, going, “I cut your leg off! I cut your arm off!” They’re not imagining that guys have blood shooting across the room. [Laughs] They’re not reveling in the gore. What makes Axe Cop funny to me is you take that kind of innocent look at [violence] – I wouldn’t even call it violence, in the context of what Malachai’s playing, because he’s not thinking violently –

Flightpath: It’s like Looney Tunes violence.

Ethan Nicolle: Yeah. And so you take that, you put it in the world of Axe Cop, you illustrate it out and you put that dead serious look on his face, and it’s comedy gold. [Laughs]

Flightpath: There’s another one, which is someone getting something on them, like blood from a dinosaur, or they eat something, and then they become that thing. Where does that come from?

Ethan Nicolle: [Laughs] I don’t know where he got that. All I know is, that [while writing the] original Axe Cop, that first episode, we were playing together and we’d just cut off some dinosaurs’ heads. I love horror movies, over-the-top gore Peter Jackson kind of stuff, and I was like, “Oh man, I just got blood all over me!” And then Malachai goes, “I got dinosaur blood all over me, too! I’m turning into a Dinosaur Soldier.” [Laughs] He decided right there that if you get something’s blood on you, you turn into it. And it just became a running thing.

Flightpath: It’s funny because it kind of established the rules of the Axe Cop universe, in a weird way.

Ethan Nicolle: Yeah, and it’s funny ’cause when we started playing together, he assigned me to be Axe Cop, and he was Dinosaur Soldier. And since for the story I needed Axe Cop to stay Axe Cop and not keep changing, it worked, because he gave me that control. So I keep Axe Cop as Axe Cop, and he kept transforming. [Laughs]

Ask Axe Cop #1Flightpath: You were talking before about how you wanted to break into comics, you got published, but you ended up going to the Web, where you could reach a lot more people. Do you think that’s the future, especially as the print industry changes? Will webcomics take up more and more of the comic book landscape?

Ethan Nicolle: Yeah, I think that the Internet is effecting all forms of media, for sure. I don’t foresee in my lifetime the printed book dying off completely. I think most people that have held a book are going to want to hold a book later on, but that’s because I’m ignorant of what technology may come down the road. There could be a device invented that’s a great replacement. They’ve got the Kindle now, but I don’t think that’s a great replacement for comics. The iPad is kind of cool, but I don’t feel like I own the book until I have it in paper form.

People are now used to getting to sample things more because of the Internet. They’re used to more interaction. They’re also ordering things online now more, so you’re getting less people walking into stores and flipping through pages to buy your book. Things are just changing, so you have to have an online presence. It just doesn’t make sense not to. I’m interested to see where it goes with comics and books myself.

Flightpath: If you had decided to self-publish Axe Cop in print, do you think it could have possibly reached the level of popularity that it has as a webcomic?

Ethan Nicolle: No. Number one, I don’t think I ever would have, unless I’d gotten a bunch more done. I’d only done four of them [when we launched it]. At the point that I had those four done, I was only thinking that every time I’d visit Malachai for a holiday, I’d do another couple of them with him. I wasn’t thinking that it was gonna be what I did all the time. [Laughs] And it wasn’t because I didn’t want to, I just didn’t think that was the reality. It was like, “I can’t spend all my time playing with my little brother and making these goofy comics. I gotta work.” [Laughs]

Be sure to come back this Thursday for part 2 of our interview with Ethan Nicolle!

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.

The Flightpath Holiday Gift Guide for Digital Geeks

holiday gift guide

Having trouble finding a gift for that special tech-head in your life? Or maybe you want to treat yourself to something? Either way, we’ve compiled a list of nine slam dunk digital-themed gifts to help you out – perfect for the digital-minded. Selected by Dan Brooks, Tyler Abrams and Roxanne Oliver.

1. Digital Comics. Viewing comics on an iPad (or other mobile device) is a revelation. They look awesome, plain and simple – clear, vibrant and detailed. You can manually “flip” the pages like a regular comic, you can zoom in, or you can navigate panel-to-panel. A Comixology gift card – which will work for any publishers’ comics – would be perfect for the comics nerd in your life. (Read our interview with DC Comics’ SVP of Digital, Hank Kanalz, for more info.)

2. Arduino. If you whisper the words “open source” to almost any programmer out there, whether an amateur or professional, you will immediately see their eyes light up. Follow that up with the word “Arduino” and you’ve got them drooling now. Seriously, you can’t go wrong with giving your geeky programmer friend (you know, the one who helps you fix your computer all the time) the gift of open source software AND hardware.

3. Philips Fidelio. Chances are, if you purchased an iPhone in the last year, you’ve had the potential to stream music from the phone to an AirPlay capable device. Docking stations are a thing of the past now, so gone are the days of having to dismantle your bulky iPhone case to get it to connect. Check out the Philips Fidelio wireless speaker system and free your phone.

4. Elago Slim-Fit iPhone Case. We came across this case too late to include in our iPhone case post from last week, but it deserves a spot in that list. The Elago is sleek, feels great, and shows off the design of the iPhone while still providing protection. Available for the iPhone 4 and 4S.

5. Drivemocion EX Series LED Car Sign. This LED sign that shows an emoticon to whoever is behind you in the car satisfies that wish to let that individual who just cut you off know how you truly feel. Car nuts, or really, anyone with a car, would love this.

6. Belkin Headphone Splitter. If you are strapped for cash and need a gift or stocking stuffer for a significant other, there is hardly anything more romantic than a headphone splitter. Whether you’re in a metropolitan area or going to a park, nothing is sweeter than sharing a soundtrack with someone you care about.

7. Fisheye, Macro, Wide Angle and Telephoto Phone Lenses for the iPhone.. The new iPhone 4S was just released, and if you have a tech-head in your life, they will love these accessories from Photojojo to accompany it. The range of photographs that you can capture just improved tenfold!

8. TextMate. When it comes to cranking out code, programmers tend to have their own text editor of choice. Some prefer monster-sized text editors with tons of options and bell-and-whistles, while others need minimal and distraction-free programs (cue Notepad/TexPad). TextMate (only for Mac) is the perfect combination of feature-rich options and a slimmed-down interface.

9. Panasonic Retro Headphones. The iPod/iPhone was a great innovation in portable music; the earbuds that come packaged with them were not. They’re junk. But higher-end headphones can be prohibitively expensive. Panasonic’s retro-style line is a good half-way point: they look beautiful, with a vintage ’70s design, the sound is fantastic, and they’re not too pricey. They’re also noise-canceling, making them perfect for the subway or an airplane.

5 Awesome Holiday-Themed Digital Marketing Campaigns


We’re in the thick of the holiday season, and with that comes holiday-themed digital marketing campaigns from brands big and small. Like Halloween, it’s a chance to get extra creative in a short window of time, take chances with brand identity and show consumers that you have a sense of humor. Here are five of our favorites.

Walmart’s Frank the Fruitcake – This is a pretty substantial effort on Walmart’s part to achieve numerous things – to change its brand image, to attempt something digital/viral, and to show that it has a sense of humor. The joke is that Frank, a piece of fruitcake, is the holiday “gift nobody wants.” He’s voiced by the great Bobcat Goldthwait, and complains about be passed over year after year. If you log in via Facebook, a customized video is posted on your wall, where Frank arrives via package, addressed to you. Open him up, he talks a little, and you can then send him on to a friend. It’s fun, it’s got Bobcat and it’s ultimately a nice entry into the viral space for Walmart.

Sears Cheer Tree – The Sears Cheer Tree is a simple idea that again calls on user interaction, but the result is pretty charming. Visitors upload a photo of themselves putting up or posing with their own holiday decorations, which is then added to an increasingly growing mosaic. You can then zoom in on every photo in the mosaic. There’s something nice about it, plain and simple, and by not offering awards or anything like that, there’s no ugly competition aspect to it. Great concept.

Santa Yourself – This owes an obvious debt to the immortal Elf Yourself, but it seems to be taking off. Upload a photo of yourself, and voila, you’re a dancing Santa. Good animation and sound, and it’ll make you laugh and probably drive you a little crazy, which I’m guessing is the point.

Toys R Us – This isn’t a viral or interactive campaign per se, but the branding on the website really works. It’s filled with cartoon elves and reindeer, and works for kids and adults. Even with all that, the site is still clean and easily navigable. The right way to decorate your website for the holidays.

Coca-Cola – Coca-Cola is almost synonymous with holiday marketing, but I like how understated its website is this year. In fact, the landing image and seemingly only thing on the site that’s holiday related is a link to Arctic Home, Coca-Cola’s initiative to save polar bears (its longtime holiday mascot) in the Arctic. That’s valuable real estate for a company like Coca-Cola to give up towards a good cause, and it makes me think more of them than any campaign to sell more soda could have.

Interview: Jeff Rubin of College Humor and Jest – Part 2

Jeff Rubin College Humor

In the final installment of our two-part interview with Jeff Rubin (in case you missed it, here’s part 1), the writer and performer discusses the new College Humor spinoff site, Jest, writing comedy for the Internet, and whether or not we’ll ever see a Street Fighter: The Later Years type sketch for a certain NES game.

Flightpath: What I read about Jest is that it’s aimed at an older demographic. What can you tell us about it, and what does it mean that it’s targeted towards an older demo?

Jeff Rubin: 25-year-olds and 35-year-olds, I think, would find a lot of the same things [funny]. I know for a fact that there are a lot of older people that are on College Humor. But College Humor is always going to be about college, and I think there are some people that will never go to it just because of that. And there are things that are popular online that don’t really fit within College Humor, so we wanted a way to address those.

So what we’re doing with Jest is, it’s a very topical site. We’re still working on this, but we’re trying to develop, conceive, write, shoot and edit videos in 24 or 48 hours, as much as possible. We had an NBA lockout video, we shot something about the iPhone 4S, like the day after it came out. So we’re trying to turn those kinds of things around quickly.

And even other things, like we did this sketch about Gatorade. It’s a commercial for Gatorade, but instead of it being an energy drink that will help you win at basketball – by the way, how clear is it that I don’t know anything about sports where I’m like, “It will help you win at basketball,” that’s what I think energy drinks do – it helps you get over your hangover. It was a funny idea and I think a funny sketch – and even that’s a little College Humor-y – but our sketch was more about getting through the day at work, as opposed to getting out of your dorm room bed and going out to party again. So I think it was a slightly different take on it. You know, we’re doing things that I think people in college would enjoy, but aren’t necessarily made with them in mind.

Flightpath: Going forward now, will you have content or a hand in stuff that shows up on Dorkly and College Humor?

Jeff Rubin: Yeah. Yes, I will. Maybe not as much as I had in the past or at a certain time, but I definitely will continue to contribute to those websites. They’re not gonna get rid of me that easily.

Flightpath: When people think about comedy writing, I think they maybe still think of the SNL model or the Mr. Show model. What’s different about comedy writing for the Internet?

Jeff Rubin: I’ve only ever written for the Internet, so I don’t have much insight. I would say that the rules are a little freer. I feel like we’re free to make up formats. We can make a video that’s one minute and really funny, or we can make a video that’s five minutes and really funny. Where if you’re writing for TV, it has to be 22 minutes and fit into these exact chunks at these spots. I personally find it very exciting that a lot of the rules are still being written. It’s changed so much just since I started working, and I think that’s pretty exciting.

Obviously, there’s things on TV that come along that completely change everything, like Arrested Development. But I think it’s harder on TV because of how much money goes into everything and how long the process is, whereas I feel like we have the chance to really come up with something new and innovate every single day.

Flightpath: So what’s your official role at Jest, and what’s a typical day like?

Jeff Rubin: I am the Editor-in-Chief of Jest. I’d say the site’s new, there’s no typical day yet. We’re still kind of trying to figure out how to keep up with the news cycle and how to best react to it. It’s not hard deciding when to make a video, it’s hard deciding when not to, because there’s something in the news every day. “Is this the thing we really want to focus on this week, or should we hold off?” There’s writing meetings. We try and pay attention to the news and when something comes up, we have that conversation – is this something we should be talking about? And that’s just the original content. There’s this whole other side to the site that is aggregating the best comedy on the Internet and presenting it to you almost like news of what’s funny.

Also, I work a lot on designing the site itself. It’s still very much in beta. There’s, I think, a lot of work to be done in the best way to present this material. So there are a lot of different elements that involve working with a lot of different people. And that’s fun.

Flightpath: Will mixing original and aggregated content be a differentiating factor for Jest?

Jeff Rubin: College Humor aggregates content too. There’s lots of just funny videos on College Humor, and they’re very popular on the site, too. Sometimes we labor for months over a sketch, really working hard on it, and we think it’s great and we’re really excited to put it up. And then a video of like, an elephant shooting water at a baby, blows it away the day it comes out. [Laughs]

But we have a bit of a different take on it on Jest. You can kind of browse by person, or by topic, or by show. Jest also works with Hulu to incorporate more “legit” type of stuff and mix it all up. So when you go to a page for Will Arnett, you get all the funny videos he’s done online, as well as all the TV shows he’s on, which includes both episodes of Arrested Development that are maybe on Hulu, as well as episodes of Up All Night from

Flightpath: Your podcast, The Jeff Rubin Jeff Rubin Show, seems like an amalgam of all the things that you love.

Jeff Rubin: It’s funny. I obviously have a wide variety of guests on. People will comment on the randomness of the guests, but to me it’s not random. It’s all cool stuff! From my perspective, there’s a complete line you can trace through everything, because it’s all just stuff that I’m into.

Flightpath: What do you get from the podcast that maybe you don’t get from your other work on Jest or College Humor?

Jeff Rubin: I really enjoy the medium. The gateway podcast for me, as I think was for a lot of people, was Marc Maron’s WTF Pod. I’d listen to that, and I’d enjoy it. What was remarkable was that I was enjoying it as much as I might enjoy a book or a good TV show, but I was enjoying it in a way that was totally different. The way I was enjoying it was completely unique. I really like the connection I think you forge with people, because it’s not just like a five minute Internet video, where someone’s watching it and as soon it’s over they’re onto the next thing – maybe they don’t even finish it. You’re really in someone’s head for an hour. It’s a much deeper connection. I really enjoy how deep you can get with things. Some are 30 minutes, some of them are an hour and a half, and I think they’re equally good and each one is exactly as long as I want them to be. It can be about whatever. So there’s a lot of fun to be had with it, and I honestly just enjoy doing it.

Flightpath: Now you have a podcast, you’ve written for some very successful comedy sites, you’re active on Twitter. Why do you think the Internet has become such a big destination for comedy?

Jeff Rubin: I don’t think the Internet’s become a big destination for comedy. I think comedy is just always popular. You know, some of the first plays were comedy, some of the first TV shows were comedy. We just have this new thing, and I think as a society maybe, we like comedy and were like, “Well, how are we gonna laugh at this thing?” I think it also doesn’t hurt that everyone’s always on it. Comedy is always tempting and you’re always connected to the Internet, so it’s kind of interesting that you can always find something that makes you laugh.

I actually installed the Reddit iPhone app. Not that Reddit’s necessarily comedy per se, but it’s fun. [Laughs] And I installed the iPhone app today, and I was like, “Oh, well, I guess I’ll never be bored anymore. There’s like a constant stream of interesting things going into my phone at all times.”

Flightpath: Do you ever get tired of the omnipresence of not just the Internet, but the constant connectivity? Like, “You know, I just don’t feel like writing Tweets today.”

Jeff Rubin: Yeah, and you know what I do when that happens? I don’t write any Tweets. I certainly don’t Tweet every day. The podcast, I’m sort of committed to doing weekly, and I treat it like it’s a TV show, but if I didn’t want to do one next week, I could just not do one and it would be totally fine. I like to go camping; I do sometimes feel like, “information overload,” and I try and make a conscious effort to get away from it. But I also embrace it.

Flightpath: Is there anything on Jest we should be looking forward to that you can give us a little preview about?

Jeff Rubin: You know I really can’t, because I don’t know what we’re putting up next week yet. We’re waiting to see the news, which is exciting.

Flightpath: Finally, just since Jest is skewed towards an older demo, does this mean there will never be a Burger Time: The Later Years?

Jeff Rubin: No, probably not. But on Dorkly, which is our videogame site, there’s hundreds of bits, and if there isn’t a Burger Time one yet, it seems inevitable that there will be. It’s totally perfect for that format.

And that is, I think, what’s cool about what we’re doing at College Humor Media. There’s outlets for all these different types of jokes. I could have an idea that’s maybe more appropriate for College Humor, or more appropriate for Dorkly, or more appropriate for Jest. And I think it’s exciting to develop all these different outlets.

Interview: Jeff Rubin of College Humor and Jest – Part 1

Jeff Rubin

Over the last decade, College Humor has become one the Internet’s biggest comedy websites, featuring a mix of sketch comedy, animated shorts, interviews and lots, lots more. It dared to incorporate geek culture – especially videogames – into its content before almost anyone else, and in smart, non-pandering ways that earned it significant cred among comedy and game aficionados alike.

A big reason for College Humor’s success is Jeff Rubin. One of the main creative forces behind College Humor, Rubin has been writing and performing for the site almost since the beginning. His sensibilities, including a deft comedic touch and a love of gaming and pop culture, have played a large part in influencing the site’s tone and content. Lately, the performer has expanded his online offerings to include a podcast, The Jeff Rubin Jeff Rubin Show, and is now shepherding the recently-launched College Humor spinoff, Jest, which is targeting an older demographic. In part one of our interview with Rubin, we discuss the early days of College Humor, the legendary Street Fighter: The Later Years series of sketches, and why he’s not like The Wizard.

Flightpath: How did you come to be involved with College Humor?

Jeff Rubin: I started here as an intern. I had been out of college for a few months, and I actually found the job on Craigslist. And I was the first employee hired for the company past the owners themselves. They were looking to kinda kick things up. They had been in San Diego for a year and they moved to New York, and they were trying to grow the site and they were looking for someone to help out. I guess they hired me as an intern to help with a lot of the content. It was pretty clear that they were looking to grow and that if I didn’t mess up, I could have a job, maybe. And I’ve been here for seven years since.

Flightpath: How did your role evolve from intern to Executive Editor?

Jeff Rubin: I guess, initially, I had been involved more in curating the content and looking for other funny people online that we could maybe work with or feature their content, and sorting through these submissions. And I still work on those things to an extent, but that was among my first responsibilities. Then it became more about putting together a team to make those efforts even more successful, but also creating our own content – writing, and occasionally acting on camera in stuff that we were making.

Flightpath: That’s one thing I wanted to ask about. College Humor evolved to have such a breadth of content. There’s interviews, there’s sketches and animation like The Jersey Shore RPG. What’s the creative process in funneling all this different content into the whole that is College Humor?

Jeff Rubin: That’s a good question. I don’t know. You know, I guess we don’t think about it much. To me, they’re kind of one product. We try to give everything a similar sensibility, whether it’s something you have to read, or something you just look at and immediately get, or a video you watch for a few minutes. I hope that they’re all cut from the same cloth and are all from the same type of people – and in many cases from the same people.

There’s a surprisingly small writing staff. Everyone knows each other, so we have a shared sense of humor. We’re into a certain type of thing, and I think you can see that represented in all the work we do over different types of mediums. We didn’t used to do original videos, we used to have a bigger focus on pictures, we didn’t used to write as many articles, we didn’t take articles as seriously as we do now. There used to be naked girls. So the site’s evolved a lot over time.

Flightpath: So for something like The Jersey Shore RPG, how does that come to be? Because it’s very different from writing man-on-the-street interviews or sketches.

Jeff Rubin: Yeah, I mean, it’s not that different from writing a sketch. I know it’s animated, but it follows the same structure, I’d say, as one of our live action sketches – where there’s a viral idea, taking something that’s popular, and putting a fun twist on it. Taking this idea and exploring all the different sides of it. We also react to the zeitgeist and whatever’s popular, and I think there was a time when everyone had to have a Jersey Shore sketch. So we knew we had to do something about Jersey Shore. I don’t know how we really came up with the idea to present it as an RPG, to be honest. I think we were just looking for a unique angle on Jersey Shore, and I feel like we like doing things that a lot of people are into, but you wouldn’t necessarily see on Saturday Night Live. They’d never do an RPG sketch on Saturday Night Live, even though there’s a large, large number of people out there who are familiar with the tropes of the genre and the format.

Flightpath: I think my first exposure to College Humor was Street Fighter: The Later Years.

Jeff Rubin: Oh, that’s interesting, because that’s one of our first original videos. We had done a few that starred us, and were kind of low budget – us going out with the camera kind of thing – which are still on the site somewhere. Then we started making videos with the idea of getting them spread around.

Street Fighter: The Later Years was a huge, huge hit for us. It’s still one of our biggest hits. I think it was like the third or fourth video we ever made. I feel like a big moment in that video is with Dhalism – who was a character in Street Fighter that could extend his limbs to two or three times their length, and it was a fighting game, so he could punch people from across the street. Everyone’s kind of down-and-out from their street fighting days, and Dhalism, who is now a cab driver, I think…Maybe he’s not a cab driver. For whatever reason, he’s driving –

Flightpath: He was a cab driver.

Jeff Rubin: Okay good. I was afraid I was being racist just because he’s Indian. So they’re turning a corner, and he reaches his arm out, and he has these kind of extendo-arms, and he grabs this lamppost to swing the car around the corner. I think that was a big moment because it’s a fun special effect, and that was at a time when you weren’t seeing a lot of special effects with that kind of production quality in Internet videos, additionally in a funny video. Also, that’s where we started to hit upon this idea – that’s a nerdy example, but there are also non-nerdy examples – of doing these things that are out there that people are into, but you wouldn’t see a Street Fighter sketch on Comedy Central, necessarily.

Flightpath: I was wondering if that was a conscious decision. I love the Street Fighter: The Later Years sketches, I think a lot of people did, with all the in-jokes. One thing I’ve noticed about College Humor, and I don’t know if this was intentional or not, but it seems like it filled a niche, or created a kind of gaming-slash-pop culture influenced form of comedy?

Jeff Rubin: That’s definitely true, because a lot of us are dorky and we think that stuff’s funny, and it was often successful. Videogames are like movies and music, but they’re still a little underground. And [the videogame sketches] were so successful, in fact, that we spun them off into another site called Dorkly, which I also work on. Dorkly is just pure videogame humor, and we do two videos that take place inside a videogame every week, and every day there’s comics and articles about videogames.

My favorite things on that site are articles that you have to have played the game [to understand]. There was this great one, “The 7 Most Difficult Cases in L.A. Noire.” One of them was like, “Murder At The Beer Bottle Factory,” which if you played L.A. Noire, is funny, because in that game there’s a lot of picking up bottles and examining them for fingerprints. And you have to have played L.A. Noire to get that joke. But it was a very popular thing and there’s an audience for that kind of humor.

So it wasn’t intentional, but it was something we liked doing, we were proud of, and we recognized that there was a very hungry appetite for that kind of material on the Internet.

Flightpath: Are you as big a gamer as you used to be?

Jeff Rubin: I’d say that’s true. I do a lot of videogame humor, but I think I play videogames less than people would expect. It’s almost like a book to me. I’m not always playing videogames; I’m not like The Wizard, I’m not like, incredible at any game. But when there’s something out that’s good and has a lot of buzz and gets good reviews and people say is interesting, like L.A. Noire, I’ll check it out. Right now, Arkham City, the new Batman game, I’m totally obsessed with. I very rarely get obsessed with a game. But yeah, I’m still playing videogames. I’ve always done it my whole life – enjoyed it like that.


Click here for part 2 of our interview with Jeff Rubin!

Culture Club, Hallah-ween Style!

As a digital marketing agency steeped in digital, design and creativity, the one thing we have in common with every other company – big and small – is culture.

Culture, like life, marriage or anything else important, takes work. It’s fun to create and eat bread all day as many of us did during our 2nd Annual “Hallah-ween” BreakFest, as seen in the header photo above. (Spreading 25 different toppings on four kinds of Hallah bread didn’t hurt either! And yes, we know it’s more commonly spelled “Challah.”) But what made it cool was the silliness and ridiculousness – not of dressing up, but just another excuse to let our hair down.

I look, with my band of sisters and brothers, for every opportunity (fine, any opportunity) to let our human culture here at 36 West 25th St. in NYC to breathe in the silly.

Happy Halloween tonight! Trick or Treat your hearts out…no excuses needed!

Interview: Billy Fields, Music Business Sales Exec, on Vinyl’s Comeback and Digital Music Trends

Billy Fields

The struggles of the music business over the last 10 years have been well-documented. With the launch of Napster and the blossoming of illegal downloads, sales of physical CDs plummeted, and labels and shops disappeared. Digital sales via outlets like iTunes and Amazon have helped the industry stem the tide a little, but not enough.

Yet over the last few years, something strange has happened: vinyl sales have shown tremendous growth. Once deemed too big and too old in the CD era, the format has somehow made a comeback in the age of digital downloads. We recently caught up with Billy Fields, Director of Sales and overseer of vinyl production and Record Store Day for a major record company, to discuss the return of vinyl, what makes the format unique, and how digital music and vinyl can both continue to grow in the years ahead.

Flightpath: Music is so tied into digital technology these days, but vinyl sales – this year and last year – are really kind of astounding. 2.8 million sold in 2010, and that was up from 900,000 four years ago. Sales from 2011 so far are up 37 percent over the same period last year. Why do you think this is happening?

Billy Fields: I should couch all this. Some of this is actually based in fact because of the business I’m in and who I talk to on a regular basis, but a lot of this is just my thought about the aspect of digital music – that convenience is really fantastic, but convenience doesn’t actually trump the emotional connection that someone has to a record. I just read a story that came in through a vinyl community blog and through a Twitter feed that I follow about this cat that was in San Antonio when the wildfires struck. The guy snuck back into his “by-demand-of-the-police-get-out-of-the-neighborhood” neighborhood to get his records.

Flightpath: [Laughs] Right.

Billy Fields: Now that’s a stupid thing for him to have done because records are not as valuable as his life. But he said the reason why he did it was that every one of his records, he had a sentimental attachment to. I challenge anyone to show me that sort of connection to a digital file.

Let’s be clear about vinyl and the way it’s judged. All the numbers that everyone talks about are scanned through SoundScan, which is the industry standard. It’s what everyone uses, but there is a lot of business that happens that is either added to, subtracted from, adjusted, or never reported at all because of the nature of what the business is. As a couple of examples: Urban Outfitters carries records now in every one of their stores. They report none of those sales to SoundScan. All of the major online audiophile LP specific outlets – Acoustic Sounds, Elusive Disc – there’s a lot of them. They don’t report to SoundScan.

So we are going off of what the mainstream music business does, and we had a plateau in 2010. 2010 I think, if I remember correctly, was up 15 percent from 2009. It was 2.5 to 2.8 million. And I’ll be honest that once we got through Christmas last year, and we got into January, I started seeing weekly averages of 62, 64, 65,000 units reported in SoundScan. Which was up dramatically from either the fourth quarter of 2010, where the averages, until you got to Christmas, were 48,000, 52,000, 45,000. So something happened this last year at Christmas which was like, this whole other group of kids got turned onto what was going on and started to actually buy. Now all this also, by the way, coincides with a lot of really great indie rock records being released with a digital component [included]. We’re actually able to go to these kids, tie in the sentimental quality of vinyl, but also give them this convenience factor that makes it the best of both worlds. You get something with 12-by-12 art, it’s beautiful, you can read liner notes, you get to get into the details of a record and, you know, you get to put it onto whatever device it is you’re walking around town [with] – you get the best of both. The reason why, back to your original question – it is the sentimental, emotional connection to music, which at it’s heart is what music is. That is driving the business and how it’s developing and how it’s growing.

Flightpath: This is probably a reflection of what you were saying, but I’m a big music fan and nerd. I grew up in the CD age, I’m thirty years old, and I’ve basically switched over to vinyl plus digital downloads. And a big reason for that is because I can buy a new album on vinyl and get the digital download with it, which is great. I love the size of a record, the sound, and you know, the whole experience. But I also think that there’s something to be said for a well-made physical artifact that digital just can’t match.

Billy Fields: I completely agree.

Flightpath: Do you think that a new generation is kind of realizing that, finally?

Billy Fields: I think that every, I don’t know, let’s call it every decade or decade and a half, you get this process that happens. You start to realize that all the technology you’ve been consuming, all this that you’ve done to drive you forward, you’ve done it so quickly that you actually forget to experience being alive. I think that, you know, it’s more this process of every decade, decade and a half of reviewing, “What have I been doing? What did I miss?” And so for you, at 30, you grew up on CDs, you never even really dealt with vinyl.

There are three distinct groups of people that are actually buying records today. There are the audiophiles – the people that never stop buying records and would go wherever they have to go to get the best pressing. So they’d go to European imports, they’d go to little niche labels that release the weirdest psych records that have ever existed but are so lovingly made, and made in such small press runs, that they become highly collectable. Then you’ve got people like me. I’m 14 years older than you. I actually grew up on records – the end of records – but adopted every technology from there. I’m on Spotify, I’m a Rdio user, I love iTunes. I don’t buy a lot of music that way, but I use it. I have music on all my devices because I like to take it with me. So you’ve got my group of people that grew up on it, absolutely, but sort of walked away from it, that are now coming back because, “Wow, this really is better than CD sound. It’s better than ear buds in my ears on the train. I can hear this music, I can let the music envelope me, almost like a physical blanket.” And then you’ve got kids! And I’m going to call you a kid at this point – well, your age and younger, that never even thought that records mattered or never even had the opportunity to like, open up Dark Side of the Moon, put it on with headphones, and realize, “Holy shit, this is blowing my mind.”

So, that’s what I think is happening. You’re going through the process where we’re all saying, “Hey, let me sort of reflect on how I go forward into the future.” And you also have kids that are like, “I’ve never even experienced this before and this is really fantastic.”

Flightpath: Most of the time, when I find out about a vinyl release, I’m finding out about it online, either through Twitter or through something posted on Facebook.

Billy Fields: With all the aspects of our media world that are splintered now and [are] becoming even more splintered, the more we get away from the ubiquitous song on radio – we’re sort of past that right now, but it’s not done yet – it’s almost, “Wherever the water rises to, that’s where we’re going.”

I mean, I’ve got my trusted sources. I am, what’s the word…a disciple. I’m a disciple of independent retail. I shop in record stores. I like the people that work in record stores. I call any number of them my friends. I like to buy records.

I’m in Denver right now. I went to Twist & Shout, bought records, and I’ll buy some more records before I leave. And the reason why is that when you walk in there and you say to someone, “Hey look, what are you listening to? Oh wow, that sounds great. I’m going to buy that.” That’s how I get turned onto records. I knew about Mumford and Sons before the two million people that bought it, because independent records stores were telling that story way, way before anyone else was aware of who that band was. Way before they were on the Grammys. I mean years before. And I mean, we all do this differently. It’s either, “This is what my Twitter feed is, this is what my Facebook friends are saying, this is what people I work with say.” I mean, we’re getting it, but it’s funny because it all goes back to that idea of, “I trust the people that I know. I trust the people who have previously told me about things I have loved.” You know, I’ve got people that are in that independent retail community that I could seriously just pick up the phone, call five people, get five different answers and they would all be fantastic records that you would never have heard of before.

Flightpath: Right. I mean, I really miss record shopping. It’s exactly what you described. I discovered Marshall Crenshaw because when I was in college, I walked into a record store in the Village and someone was playing his greatest hits, and I was like “What is this?”

Billy Fields: Right! You were like, “What is that!” I mean, we can’t consume it all. There are so many great books that are written that you’ll never read, you just don’t have the time. There are so many great records that are recorded that you’ll never get to hear because there isn’t the time to do it. You have to decide to pick and choose, build your filters well, and adjust that batch that best helps you hit the mark every time, you know?

Flightpath: One thing I like now is that the marketing seems to have gotten very creative – in regards to vinyl – in targeting fans. Matthew Sweet has a new album out, so does Wilco, and they had these packages where you could preorder and you get the record, a t-shirt, and a tote bag. All this cool stuff. It seems in a way like the marketing is more creative than I’ve seen it in a long time.

Billy Fields: I do agree. I think the reason they are doing that is that for one, you’re seeing the splitting apart of what the retail environment used to be. You simply can’t get all those things in all the places that you could before. You know, even those music retailers or the big box stores that actually carry music that are out in the market, they don’t carry as deep of a selection as before. They are catering to a different audience. It’s a sea change in how the bands reach out specifically and say, “Hey, you’ve already contacted us as a fan and because of that, we’re going to let you in on something cool and here’s the opportunity.” And it’s also combating the idea of valueless things.

I mean, I think it’s great that Lady Gaga sold the records that she sold, and her record frankly, for what it is, it’s a great record. I’m not going to talk bad about the record; I mean, it’s not my bag but it’s a cool record. But for someone that visible, how does she not sell millions of records at 99 cents? [Lady Gaga’s album was released as a download for 99 cents – Dan.] I mean, to me it’s like, does the public actually believe that it’s worth nothing? Or is there some weird, like, “I’ll pay fifty bucks for a preorder of a Wilco record,” and it’s a matter of some people think it’s worth nothing, and some will give their right arm for it. You know, you have those bands that are like, “They want to support me. They like what I do, I want to give them something really fantastic.”

Flightpath: Exactly. The focus of the music industry for a long time has always been on digital. Do you think that was a mistake?

Billy Fields: I don’t think it was a mistake. I mean what has always happened, at least for the music business – and I could even probably say [the same] for the publishing business, or whatever the business is – we’ve always followed the technology. We made singles when that was what was hot. I mean, we’re the music, but we’ve always been about the medium. So as the medium develops and moves into a different environment, so does the music. So I don’t think it was at all a mistake, just that this is the march of technology. You know, I’m talking to you on an iPhone. Ten years ago, what I have in my hand right now was probably conceived by people like William Gibson, but the people walking down the street weren’t thinking like, “Hey, I’m going to be able to carry my entire collection on this thing that I also talk on.”

Flightpath: They didn’t know they needed it at the time.

Billy Fields: Exactly. So, there’s a bit of marketing and a bit of the showmanship of that, but we are an interesting, malleable creature, us humans. We follow pretty well. And if it’s done well, and if it’s done right, and it ends up being easy, we’ll follow all the more. So no, I don’t think that it was a mistake. I think it’s the natural evolution of whatever it is. Don’t you see a future where you don’t ever carry anything anymore? You just think it, you know?

Flightpath: What’s the feeling in the industry right now about vinyl? Is it very excited about everything that’s happening?

Billy Fields: Well, it all comes down to who you’re talking to. I mean, I’m excited about it, I love the format. I’m tied into it in a big way for my entire company. It’s a tough question.

Flightpath: As a music fan, I find it very exciting.

Billy Fields: It is. I’ll use Lady Gaga for an example. Is that really a record that should be on vinyl? I’m not sure. They put it out, which is cool. And it sold. But is that fan really excited about it being a record? I think that’s really what it comes down to. It’s not so much about the format overall, but does [the artist] really work well with the format? Are they going to love that experience for that artist? I think it’s a lot more about that than the overall thing and what the excitement is about that.

Flightpath: I feel like there’s the opportunity there, though, that it could make a person become a fan of the format.

Billy Fields: I think that happens every day. [Laughs] When I had just got out of working in retail and I got into working on the distribution side of the business, I was always amazed by how many Metallica Black records we sold. And what I would always come back to is, “Yeah you know, every year another 13-year-old kid turns 14, and the Metallica Black record becomes the most important record of his life.”

Flightpath: [Laughs] That’s totally true.

Billy Fields: I mean, that’s what happens! Sometimes you get it when you’re younger, sometimes you get it when you’re older; it all depends on how it breaks down. You never know when a record is going to be the most important thing in your life.

Flightpath: Are most bands excited about their stuff coming out on vinyl now?

Billy Fields: Again, the ones that love the format and the ones that actually want the record to be released on record – absolutely. You know the thing is, even after all this time, is your music even officially released until it’s on vinyl? I mean, maybe? Maybe it doesn’t really become real until you’ve got a 12-by-12 record. You know, maybe then it becomes real.

Flightpath: I’m not just saying this, but I don’t download music illegally. I’ve always preferred to buy it. I’ve always felt like I want to support the artist. I like having a collection. I think a lot of my friends, or even a lot of my generation got to this point where they don’t want to pay for anything, and all physical media has kind of suffered for that. What’s your take on that – that phenomenon that’s happened, since the Internet kind of made free access to media possible?

Billy Fields: Well you know, that’s funny, because being as I’m an old man now comparatively, that’s what I think: a bunch of lazy kids, not wanting to pay for anything. That’s good to hear. But I don’t know. That’s a really tough question to figure out. It really is. If we could all turn back the clock and go back to when Napster first started and say, “We’re going to figure out how to monetize this now as an industry,” and not go through the decade that’s been a struggle to figure [monetizing MP3s] out. What would have happened 10 years ago if we had services such as Rdio or Spotify or any of these services that are actually legitimate, real things that gave people access to hear music that they wouldn’t have otherwise? I don’t know. Because it’s not just that people feel like maybe they don’t have to pay for anything, but I guess isn’t that in everything?

Flightpath: I mean, there are pirate sites for comic books. I was reading an interview with Grant Morrison, the comic book writer, and he was talking about how comic book sales are plummeting for different reasons. But he was also saying that it’s like no one wants to pay for anything anymore and that’s a real problem.

Billy Fields: Maybe if we made more stuff and talked a lot more about the fact that it takes talent, and effort, and work, and that work pays off and that you’re fully employed and employable and that you aren’t working at whatever job that you can barely cover your rent, maybe you have a little extra money to say, “I love this artist so much that I’m going to support them.” I don’t know. I think that the way we behave is directly proportional to sort of the messages we’re told or the messages that are parroted into us through various media outlets. Sometimes those messages are pretty disruptive in what they tell you what’s valuable and what isn’t. But again, that’s almost a sociological conversation and I don’t know that I have any of the answers for that.

Flightpath: I wanted to ask you about Record Store Day and about how that came to be. It seems like it’s been really successful.

Billy Fields: It’s been fantastically successful. It started with a group of record store guys saying, “Hey, there’s this thing called ‘Free Comic Book Day.’ We should do something like that for record stores.” Next year will be the fifth year, so yeah, [it started] four years ago and it was mostly an off shoot of what Free Comic Book Day was, which was just, “Hey let’s give away a bunch of great stuff out to people who come in and get them sort of acquainted again with their neighborhood community record store.”

Some of these stats might not be exactly spot-on, because I’m doing this from memory, but in 2010 there was something like 1.1 million people that went into record stores worldwide on that day.’s web traffic for the month of April was something like 1.25 million page views. The amount of retail dollars – I can’t actually answer that, and I don’t know that there is a very clear indication of it. But when you talk to individual stores – and these are stores that have been doing this as community-based, local record stores for 25, 30, 35 years – they say that, “This is the best day that we have had in our history.” So what I would say is, that this has built, and built, and built. I want to say in 2010 that there were 174 specialized releases that were released on Record Store Day. Now, that can be anything from a short run of 100 seven-inch records that are only in a single market to big records, like a Black Keys special 12-inch that’s leading into their release that we made, you know, 5,000 of. So, in 2010 there were 174. Last April, there were around 300 different items that were released.

Flightpath: Wow. So it’s bigger and bigger.

Billy Fields: It’s bigger and bigger, but the thing is, we’re feeling like it’s almost getting too big. It’s sort of too much for stores to handle, and how do you sort through it? Just because the industry is saying, “This is really hot, we’re going to get involved in it and make these things available,” it doesn’t mean that the stores have to buy everything. The stores really need to pay attention to, “Hey, what can I sell to my consumer? What can I sell to my fan that is coming into my store?” So this gives you more of a choice to do it. Did more releases necessarily mean better results? I think yes and no. But again this last year, the same store I just related about “the best day in our history?” This year, it was store after store after store saying, “We’re up 45 percent from our last year. At noon, we had eclipsed last year’s numbers and we’re still going strong. We had a line 40 deep for seven hours.” I mean, I live in New York, and I went out with a bunch of friends from Atlantic [Records], and I think I hit seven record stores that day and it was great.

J&R was a mad house. People were grabbing and pushing and screaming and it was just like, “Oh my God.” It was crazy. But then you go other places and it was, “This is what we’ve got left, and it was crazy at 9 a.m. when we opened,” and then you hang out at a store like Permanent Records out in Greenpoint and they’re like, “Oh yeah, it’s better than last year,” and they’ve got bands playing. It’s like a whole day party. Come out, interact with other human beings. Get out of your digital world and your 140 character lives and actually shake hands and say, “Hey,” to people that share an interest that you have.

Flightpath: That’s awesome, and that’s why I don’t think vinyl will ever go away and why I’m excited it’s coming back. I just can’t think of anything else that would inspire people to be so excited about an entertainment format.

Billy Fields: You know, I think that’s a really good point. Even though this is very specialized and we all admit that this is niche and it’s a very small percentage of the overall music business. And it is, let’s be real. But what other events have happened in the music business that are as exciting as Record Store Day? And not just the music business, but even in the entertainment business, period? In stores, where you have people lining up for hours and hours and hours to hang out and buy some things that they’re coveting. I have not seen any other event occur. In fact, one of the reasons why vinyl is exciting and why vinyl continues to grow is because of Record Store Day.

Flightpath: What’s your feeling about where everything is going both for vinyl and for digital?

Billy Fields: Well I think that vinyl is going to continue to be a really strong format. I see no reason why it won’t continue to have, on average, 20 percent growth, year over year, for the next number of years. I think that there is still a lot of content, and I say content in a very generic way, that isn’t in the format that needs to be. Whether it’s specific records where the artist really wants to take the time and do it right and put it back on the format, or just other things that haven’t yet been explored, whether it’s more seven-inch series or special 12-inch pieces or whatever. There is still a lot of vinyl business to be had and grow. The prime vehicle for marketing, and this is really the truth of it, is artist pre-orders and artists talking to their fans. It’s Record Store Day and it’s online record stores like Music Direct. So we have a lot that we can still touch on when it comes to selling.

I think as far as the format’s concerned, it’ll continue to grow and it’ll continue to be a niche product, which it is now. But I don’t see any reason why it’s going to stop being 20 percent [growth] year over year. I think last year I said, “I see no reason why we’re not going to [grow] 20 percent, year over year, over the next five years.” This year, I think through last week, we’re 35 or 36 percent above last year. And we still have the busiest quarter of the year.

Digitally…I don’t know. I think the growth of digital music has everything to do with the growth of whatever the device is. So, you see every year at Christmas that [new mobile or digital devices] are sold and then you get this huge influx into the iTunes store. Whereas three years ago, it was primarily music that was the benefit of that, now you’re seeing people buy everything. It’s apps, it’s books, it’s video – it’s everything. So I think that that will continue to grow, but it will be dependent upon the devices that support it. And so, as long as that continues to evolve and develop, I don’t see any reason why that slows down either. And frankly, the services like Spotify, Rdio or Rhapsody, and all that – sort of like, “Hey, come on in, listen as much as you want, have access to as much as you want for a set fee or free,” – I think that’s another access model for discovery, that lets people then make decisions like, “Hey, I’m going to go out and buy this record now.”

New York Comic Con 2011 Photos

Comic books are becoming more and more intertwined with digital (see our interview with DC Comics’ SVP of Digital, Hank Kanalz). Comics are now available in the digital format for the iPad and other mobile devices; comic book creation is now routinely accomplished with digital tools, from pencils to inks to colors; and web comics continue to pop up around the Internet.

This past weekend, Flightpath attended New York Comic Con 2011 at the Jacob Javits Center. We’re happy to share our photos from the getting-bigger-every-year event, which attracts retailers (both physical and online), comic book publishers, toy makers, movie studios and more. Enjoy the sights and weirdness that is New York Comic Con.

New York Comic Con gets very, very crowded. This year, however, the show was spread out over four days, and took up more of the convention center, which made for more space and a more enjoyable time. Still, if you ever go, count on getting jostled. A lot.

As you’ll see in this report, a big part of Comic Con is cosplay – costume play – with attendees dressing up as their favorite comic book, videogame, movie and TV characters. Many of the costumes are highly, if not shockingly, detailed. Here, Bumblebee from Transformers suits up.

Lots of movie promotion at Comic Con (except for Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Rises, which honestly, will print money for Warner Bros. regardless of having a presence at these things). Here’s a life-size fake Spider-Man from Marvel‘s upcoming reboot, The Amazing Spider-Man.

Marvel was really pushing The Avengers, its coming film that brings together the leads of its various franchises – most of the cast also appeared for a panel discussion and autograph signing.

Captain America’s movie suit, guarded by two “agents” of SHIELD.

And what would a comic book convention be without toys? (I ask that sincerely.) Hasbro showed off its various Marvel lines, including Thor…

…and Spider-Man.

Five-year-old me would have been very excited to see that Optimus Prime himself made an appearance at Hasbro’s booth.

Reallusion showed off iClone5, its very cool 3D animation software.

DC Comics was also, of course, a major presence at Comic Con, having dominated the news lately with its line-wide reboot, in addition to this week’s much-anticipated release of Batman: Arkham City for PS3 and Xbox360.

Speak of the devil! Or of Batman: Arkham City, which fans got to play on the show floor.

The crossover event NO ONE demanded, but would actually kind of rock! Rogue from X-Men and Dark Helmet from Spaceballs.

DC Direct, DC’s in-house action figure division, showed off its upcoming line of toys based on the revamped designs of characters from DC’s relaunch.

The whole gang is here!

Flightpath favorite Threadless, makers of the greatest tees on Earth, were also present…

…and brought along an awesome zombie.

Many fans go to Comic Con to meet their favorite artists and writers, who set up for commissions and autographs. Here, Trevor McCarthy, famous for his work on Nightwing, talks with fans.

Billy Fowler signs for some fans. (Nice Wolverine, Billy.)

Predator looks angry, but I hear he had a wonderful time!

There were tons of comics retailers, and it was hard not to spend a fortune.

Jem is her name, no one else is the same. The classic ’80s cartoon is coming to DVD via Shout! Factory.

No job is too big, no fee is too big: the Ghostbusters!

And that’s it! Hope you enjoyed our photos. If you went to Comic Con, feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Interview: Bill Hunt of The Digital Bits – Part 2


In the final installment of our two-part interview with Bill Hunt, the creator of The Digital Bits discusses his site’s landmark Alien Quadrilogy feature, the future of home video, and helping two of Flightpath’s favorite films get the special edition Blu-rays they deserve.

Flightpath: I wanted to ask about the Alien Quadrilogy feature. It was really rich with information and you seemed to get a level of access that I’d never seen before. How did that come about?

Bill Hunt: The backstory on that is, the producer of that set, Charles de Lauzirika, [became] a very good friend of mine. That happened because when the very first Alien was going to be released on DVD, I talked to the people I knew at Fox, and they said, “Next year we’re going to be doing our first special edition, and it’s going to be Alien.” And I put that news in The Rumor Mill on The Bits. I got an email within a couple of hours, basically, from this fella named Charlie, who said, “Listen, you don’t know me, but I’m an assistant. I work for Ridley Scott. I saw this news and I told Ridley, and he had no idea that Fox was going to be putting his movie out. He would love to be involved. He would love to do a director’s commentary and all that kind of stuff for it. So who do I contact to make that happen?”

Flightpath: That’s amazing.

Bill Hunt: Yeah. So I put them in touch with Fox and got them all talking together, and as a result of that, Charlie got his sort of first special edition producing job. And he’s of course since done some of the greatest special editions on both Blu-ray and DVD that have ever been done – Gladiator, Blade Runner, the Alien Quadrilogy, and the Blu-ray version of that – amazing, amazing work.

When he was just getting into that, we sort of hooked up and became friends. So when that Quadrilogy project began to happen, Doogan and I were writing a book about DVD. It was called The Digital Bits: Insider’s Guide to DVD. It was something you could take to the store, find out what the good discs were, and figure out how to hook up your DVD player and that kind of thing. And I wanted to do a feature on what it takes to put a really good special edition together, because I had never really seen anything like that. To me, a good special edition producer is almost like an archaeologist for one of these catalog films, because they’re going back in boxes and they’re interviewing people who worked on these films 20 years ago. It’s this kind of really in-depth research that’s involved. So I told Charlie, “Listen, I think it would be a great topic for a whole chapter of the book.” And he thought it was a great idea, so we went to Fox and said, “Can we have permission to do this? We’ll go behind-the-scenes for the year-and-a-half or whatever it takes to document it all, but we won’t put any of it on the website until the title gets announced – we weren’t going to leak secret information – but we’ll release it in the book. And then at a specific time, when the title gets announced, we’ll do a series of stories on the website.” And they agreed. It was amazing. They signed off on it. So literally, for a year-and-a-half, for every two or three weeks or whatever, I went to commentary recording sessions, and into the Fox archives to look at all the boxes of material. It was pretty extraordinary.

For the very original DVD release, I was at one of the sessions where they were doing the hi-def transfer for the original Alien. I was there in the capacity of doing that stuff [for the book], but also as a friend of Charlie. And it was riveting – sitting in the room with Ridley Scott when he was doing commentary. Ridley would be in the booth doing his commentary, and we’d take a break, and he’d come out and have a drink or something. It would be Charlie, the recording engineer, and Ridley and I, sitting in the room and we would just start talking about the films, and it was amazing. Then he would go back in and complete the commentary. We did that for all the actors involved – Tom Skerritt and all those people – and it was really amazing.

Flightpath: Did that lead to you doing advising on bonus features or anything like that?

Bill Hunt: We do a lot of that. It’s very often not credited stuff. I did get a credit on one of the Alien box sets and a couple of other things. But a lot of it is when the producers are working on these things, and then they have a question [like], “I’ve got two options [for bonus features],” or “I’ve got this content and this content but there’s only room for so much, and I’ve got to choose one.” That kind of thing. Producers or studio people will call me and ask my opinion about things.

A similar thing happened on the Blade Runner set when Charlie was in Warner Bros. working on the first DVD release. I was kind of behind-the-scenes on some stuff there too. These executives at Warner Bros., many of whom I’d known for years at that point, said, “We just don’t know about this. We’re really putting a lot of money and resources into it, but this is a film that has never sold well on any format. We just don’t know.” I turned to them and I said, “Trust me. You’re going to sell just so many copies of this, you’re not going to have any idea.” It was one of the first DVD titles that was ever released – in a real bare bones format – and nothing had been done with it since then. It was one of those legendary cult titles, so it was just ripe for that in-depth treatment.

And then there are a couple of titles that we have actually helped get on DVD. Synapse did a release of the Leni Riefenstahl film, The Triumph of the Will, that we kind of helped happen. And then there was another film called Six Days in Roswell, which was this great comedy/documentary that a friend of mine actually had directed, and he was looking for distribution on DVD. So we put him in touch with a company and sort of helped that happen. So every now and again, we do that.

There’s things that we say on the website and that we reveal, but there’s also a lot of things we hear and learn and information we’re given that we don’t reveal. It’s not necessarily to be controlling of information, or any kind of an ego thing. It’s just that, what we’ve learned over time is that with a lot of these special edition things, if information gets leaked too early, they can actually fall apart. Sometimes when a studio is planning to do a release, they haven’t contacted the director yet, or they haven’t contacted the actors yet. They plan to, but they haven’t done it yet, because they’re preparing the gameplan and trying to pull assets together. A couple of times it’s happened where information has gotten out early, and an actor or an actor’s agent has heard about it and said, “Well, they’re obviously going to be coming to us for something, so we’re going to jack up our price.” Whole titles have been scuttled because of leaks breaking out on the Internet. So we try to be careful not to say anything until a project is well underway. It’s a really interesting balancing act.

Flightpath: There are other sites – I won’t name them – that get into the game of posting spoilers for upcoming movies. I feel like that’s something you’ve resisted, or at least when you get to advance screenings, you’ll give your impressions of the film, but you try not to be a source of spoilers. Is that a conscious decision on your part?

Bill Hunt: Yeah. Very, very much so. I’m kind of a mixed-mind about spoilers. I remember as a kid, how amazing it was to see the ending of Empire Strikes Back and have to wait three years to get the answer to that, because there was no Internet, and magazines didn’t cover it very much. So, yeah, I definitely think those things shouldn’t be spoiled. When I see a theatrical screening of something, I’ll go on the website and review it or talk about it, but I very much try and just give an impression. When I do a little synopsis of the story, what I try and do is just set up the story. I don’t go through and do a recap of the whole thing and reveal everything. I just try to give people everything they really need to know to go in, and that’s it. Give them just enough to get them intrigued or get them interested, or tell them why it’s good, why they should go check it out, and that’s it. Let them go and see it themselves. That’s something we’ve always tried to do, is not ruin it for people.

Flightpath: Where do you see the industry going from here? It seems like the streaming wars are really heating up, and at the same time, they’re still trying to push Blu-ray.

Bill Hunt: Physical media is gonna be around for another 20 years, is my feeling. But what you’re gonna see is, is it’s gonna shift in importance. There’s an inevitable trend toward all-digital – streaming, downloading, that kind of thing – and I think that’s unavoidable, and that is gonna be the future, probably. But there will always be some physical media, in terms of like, a really gorgeous box set with nice packaging and all that, that our generation is going to continue wanting to buy. Physical media will still be around. How are old are CDs? You can still go to the store and buy CDs. We still have them, we still use them. So DVD and Blu-ray, I think, are gonna be around for awhile, and you’ll still be able to buy them. But they’ll be rarer and the importance of that will change toward the digital.

One of the great things about the disc format is, you know, you put the movie on there, and then you’ve got all this extra room. The tendency with the studio is, “Okay, we’ve got all this extra room. Let’s fill it up with good stuff.” You don’t have that concern with a download. There’s really not a lot of reason or incentive to include all of the extra ancillary bonus content as part of the download, because really, most people who download just want to see the movie. They don’t care about all the rest.

The other interesting thing I see happening is, I really kind of see the whole industry contracting in the same way that the music industry has. Look, you can charge $39.99 for a physical disc, and people will buy it. A lot of them will wait for a sale, but you can charge $39.99 for a physical disc. You can charge $99 for a box set. You can’t charge that for a download. At best, you’ll get maybe 10, 15 bucks for a download – at absolute best. So what will happen is, the amount of income coming in will go down. You can say, “It will be cheaper for people,” and all that jazz, and there’s certainly good aspects to it. But one of the concerns I have is, you’ll see a lot less extras; a lot of that stuff will go away. The amount of money coming into the studios from the DVD boom, a lot of that went right back into remastering and preserving and restoring the catalog. That’s kind of changing. A lot of studios are selling their catalogs. Disney let the Miramax catalog go. The financial value of the catalog right now – in a world where DVD is fading and Blu-ray is still only a percentage of DVD – is down. So, money isn’t being put into restoring films as much. Certainly, a big classic like Citizen Kane or Ben-Hur, is going to get the money to do a restoration. But, for example, with Godfather, Steven Spielberg had to step in and help pay for the restoration of the Godfather films. Paramount wasn’t all that interested in spending the money to restore those films. They needed restoration, and Steven Spielberg said, “Listen, I’m going to put money into this, because it’s important.”

One of our guys who occasionally writes for The Bits, Robert Harris, he’s also one of the greatest film restoration guys in the business. He did the restoration on Godfather, he did the restoration on Lawrence of Arabia. A dream project of his has been to restore the original road-show version of The Alamo, the John Wayne film, which is in terrible shape right now. It’s in absolutely terrible shape, and if a restoration isn’t done fairly soon, that film might get lost. That original version. There’s just no money. He’s been trying to get that project going forever, and there’s just no money. The studio’s just not willing to spend the money, and nobody’s stepping forward with the money, and it’s just a really complicated, political thing.

So, that’s kind of my concern. There’s a lot of advantages of digital. But with everything going digital…record stores, video stores, book stores are closing. There’s a whole sort of infrastructure that’s going away.

Flightpath: It’s like an ecosystem that gets effected just from the format change.

Bill Hunt: That’s absolutely right. In some ways there are good aspects of the downloading thing. And I get the convenience – I get all that – Netflix and stuff. But at the same time, it sort of feels like the golden age of this stuff has passed. And as things go more and more to the download side, it gets a lot less interesting for people like me. What we love covering is the special editions and the features and all this stuff, and that really is going to be less important going ahead.

Flightpath: I have one last question for you, and it’s related to this. I wanted to know if you could use your powers and your influence to get a special edition made of a movie that I feel really needs its due.

Bill Hunt: Sure. I do it all the time!

Flightpath: I don’t know if it’s something we would agree on or not, but it’s the Martin Short comedy, Clifford.

Bill Hunt: [Laughs] Nice!

Flightpath: It’s one of my all-time favorite movies.

Bill Hunt: This is part of what I do every day. People email me and say, “Hey, this movie should be out. It should be a special edition.” [Types on computer.] That is an MGM film. I will absolutely put in the good word with all the right people. I will tell you that the odds are really long. [Laughs] There’s a lot of titles that deserve special edition treatment.

Flightpath: Well, the other one I was going to say is Ghostbusters II. It’s also one of my favorite movies.

Bill Hunt: Oh, totally. The first Ghostbusters has been given a really good special edition, but II never was.

Flightpath: They kind of ignore it. It’s not even out on Blu-ray.

Bill Hunt: I think there’s a possibility of that. Clifford‘s a long shot. [Laughs] Ghostbusters II is more likely. But I will put in the good word.

Interview: Bill Hunt of The Digital Bits – Part 1


For years, The Digital Bits has been a leading source of home video news, thoughtful reviews and industry discussion, developing a huge following among cinephiles and casual movie fans alike. From the beginning, it has been a champion of film restoration and presenting films with the best picture and sound possible; it helped establish the language of what constitutes quality bonus features; and it has an uncanny ability to offer smart film and disc critiques while addressing the technical aspects of DVDs and Blu-rays in an easy-to-understand manner. Today, its review archive is a treasure trove of insights and information on film and home video releases. In part one of our interview with Bill Hunt, creator of The Digital Bits, we discuss why he launched the site, the events that helped it make gains in popularity, and his new role as Star Wars therapist.

Flightpath: Can you talk a little bit about your life prior to The Digital Bits, and what led you to start the site?

Bill Hunt: Well, I’m originally from North Dakota, and I studied film at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. And right out of that, rather than getting into film, I actually got into video production. Did a lot of corporate stuff. I lived in Minneapolis for awhile after college and did a lot of directing and editing of corporate videos – training things, that sort of stuff. And that actually brought me out to California. In kind of a sideways way, I was doing video out here, and once I was out here I thought that maybe I’d establish some contacts in the film industry, and maybe see if I can’t put my foot in those waters and get involved there.

The interesting thing is that I actually became friends with a lot of people who worked at the studios. I’ve always been really interested in the technology of home video – video technology, film technology – and so when DVD was being developed, I had a lot of contacts at the studios, and so I was following it really closely and I was learning a lot of interesting behind-the-scenes things about the technology. At the time, like many film enthusiasts, I was a big LaserDisc fan. I kind of thought, for quite awhile, that a movie disc format with discs the same size as a CD would probably be a huge hit if it happened. That wasn’t necessarily the prevailing wisdom in Hollywood. There were a lot of people, very early on, who didn’t think that was going to be the case – people that I talked to at the studios.

But when it became clear that DVD was happening, they were developing a format, I started writing about it. I was using EarthLink at the time and I had a free homepage.

Flightpath: And what year was this?

Bill Hunt: This was ’97. Real, real early. When I would talk to these folks at the studios, I would put on this EarthLink site the interesting information I’d heard from them – what discs were being planned, what the technology was all about, what studios were going to be supporting the format. That sort of thing. It initially started as like, an email newsletter that I sent to a few friends, and then I moved that to the EarthLink site. But then within a month, EarthLink called me up and said, “You’re getting way too much traffic. You need to do this as a business.” Because what was happening was, there was really nobody covering DVD. Even Variety and Hollywood Reporter weren’t covering it. Video enthusiasts – Videographer and magazines like that – were sort of talking about it a little bit. But really, there was nobody who was diving into it, especially online. It was a time when there were very few websites devoted to this stuff.

So what was happening was, I was posting this information online, and all the Hollywood people who worked at the studios and the movie directors whose movies were potentially being considered for DVD, and just the whole Hollywood community, jumped on board, and just the whole enthusiast community jumped on board, and traffic just went crazy. So, within a month I bought a domain name and started doing The Digital Bits. I ended up quitting my job doing video production, and I’ve been doing it ever since.

Flightpath: Where’d you get the name from?

Bill Hunt: You know, it’s interesting. I was trying to come up with something that wouldn’t be obvious, which is both good and bad, because obviously on the Internet, if you want to read DVD news or Blu-ray news, you search “DVD” or “Blu-ray.” But my thinking was that everything was going digital. All these things were moving from analog to digital, so digital had to be in the name. And “bits” just seemed like bits of news, bits of information, and it tied into the actual binary bits of digital information. And it all just kinda worked, and it’s good because a lot of other DVD websites have come and gone or had to rebrand themselves later. And we are still plugging away.

Flightpath: What were some of the tougher learning curves in launching the site yourself and developing it? Because as you said, there just wasn’t much around at that time.

Bill Hunt: Yeah, there really wasn’t. Just learning how to build a website – and this was of course, ’97, which was very, very early, so it was very early HTML – that was definitely a learning curve. And it’s still a learning curve, because after I got it up and running, it took off so quickly that I’ve never had a chance to go back and redesign. So I’m actually, right now, doing a redesign that will take The Bits from sort of the original HTML model into blog, database-driven content. Yeah, so I’m just now doing that. And the reason is because, in addition to being the web guy, I was the reporter; I was the main contact with all the studios. So there just was never enough time, and that’s what I’m doing now.

Flightpath: I was going to ask about that. That’s one thing I always kind of liked about The Digital Bits. I feel like I’ve been visiting it as long as I’ve been interested in DVDs and movies, but you know, it’s always kind of felt the same. I’m not saying this to discourage you, but I’ve always liked that you seemed to resist the sometimes knee-jerk reaction of websites to redesign every year.

Bill Hunt: Yeah. It was both purposeful and not. One of the reasons it’s taken so long to work on a redesign, is because one of the things I hate about a lot of websites these days is that the blog format tends to really McNugget everything. I used to read the old music magazines – Crawdaddy and those kind of magazines, and the LaserDisc Newsletter, and some of those things – and one of the things I liked is that you’d get one long column in which the person would go from one topic to another, and kind of tie them together, and give you a little context. And so you’d get lots of news, but you’d also get some background information, and you kind of would see how it all fits together. You also got some personality, because there was room to add a little personality to it. That’s kind of always the way I wanted to write and the way I’ve always done The Bits. The problem is, when you go to the blog-driven format, the tendency is for every single piece of news to become a news McNugget. And so you get like 20 posts a day versus one or two good, long, substantial ones. The struggle has been to try and figure out how to adapt to the blog format without losing that personality. You know, everyone is trying to drive up hits and drive up content, and the more posts you do, the more hits you get. So there’s that theory. But my feeling is that, the people who like The Bits and who have stuck with us over the years, like The Bits for what we don’t do as much as for what we do. [Laughs] It’s like you say, there’s personality and we don’t do the McNuggeting. I have no desire to take a press release that I get from a studio about a Blu-ray release and just copy and paste it, and upload it and call that a post. Anybody can do that; it’s just not very interesting.

Flightpath: The problem with shorter content is that you can’t inject as much personality, or really, thought, into something.

Bill Hunt: I think that’s absolutely right. I mean, the news is everywhere. There are a hundred websites that are posting this kind of news. But what people tend to come to us for is perspective, so that’s what we try to bring to it.

So that’s been a challenge. And then I would say that the other challenge has been sort of the business side. Trying to figure out how to dive into the advertising model, and selling advertising and dealing with the other side of the studio – the ad buyers and the media people. One of the most challenging aspects of that has been that in the film industry, at the studios, there’s just a gigantic revolving door. So people go from one of the PR agencies to one of the studios, and then they go back to another studio, and then they go back to a PR agency. So it’s this constant churn of different people you’re dealing with.

Flightpath: Are you doing all of it? Those are very different hats to wear: creative and business.

Bill Hunt: I do a little of each of it. My wife, Sarah, does a lot of the business-end now. I really tend to focus on content and looking behind-the-scenes in the industry, maintaining those contacts, and doing reporting on those issues. We have columnists. For example, Barrie Maxwell, who does our classics column, reviews all the different formats but from a classic film perspective. Adam Jahnke does a lot of our more eclectic, more offbeat things. There’s also Tim Salmons, Todd Doogan, Jeff Kleist, Mark Altman and a few others who cover different things. And another good friend of mine, Matt Rowe, started a site called MusicTAP. So we partner with him on music content. We try and spread things around. But my whole day is spent answering emails, answering inquiries, talking to people in the studios, talking to DVD producers and special edition producers. That really is, I would say, the lion’s share of my day. And that’s hours, some days.

Flightpath: The Digital Bits launched way prior to things like Facebook, Google+ and social media. What did you do to try and spread the word?

Bill Hunt: The answer is we did almost nothing. The real advantage was that we were doing this before anyone else was really doing it, so there were very few other places to go. There were a few other good websites: DVDFile happened around the same time, plus DVD Review, Home Theater Forum. And Steve Tannehill’s DVD Resource Page was doing its thing. There were a handful that started around that time, but we were fortunate to be among the first. So everybody in that group, in that interest field, knew who we were, and it kind of spread via word of mouth within the industry and within the enthusiast community. And then certainly that was helped by the fact that we were right in the thick of the original format war, which was DVD versus DivX.

Flightpath: Yes! I still don’t understand DivX.

Bill Hunt: [Laughs] It was so ridiculous. We actually broke the news of DivX. We were the first publication, in print or anywhere, to reveal that Disney and Fox, for example, were going to adopt this format called DivX, which was sort of a pay-per-view flavor of DVD. And then we actually contacted DivX, and within a couple of weeks, we actually went to DivX and did a really substantial feature on the technology. We gave it a very fair shake, originally, and reported all the details of what it was and how it was intended to work and what it meant. After that, we sort of did a separate thing and said, “Well, here’s what we think about it.” And it really just kind of took off from there.

Flightpath: Related to that, was there a specific review or a feature that you ran, which really turned the corner for the website?

Bill Hunt: I would definitely say the DivX thing did, because that format war supercharged interest. Interest was really picking up, in terms of DVD, at the time. That topic just absolutely went everywhere. It was all over mainstream media. Attention coming to DVD was really [borne] out of that controversy about this format war. So I would say that.

And then also, when the Star Wars special editions came back to theaters, which I think was ’97, there was talk that those were the obvious movies to bring to DVD. Those are the movies that everybody would want. And I think it was in 2000 when The Phantom Menace came out, there was this controversy – it came out on VHS, it came out on LaserDisc, but it wasn’t on DVD. It was a huge thing. It’s like, [George] Lucas is very progressive about technology, and these are obvious films to bring out. And so we, along with several other websites, did this whole Star Wars-on-DVD campaign. And Lucasfilm took notice, and they basically said, “We’re gonna do it.” And a year later they put out Episode I on DVD. So we were covering that, and that also was a big landmark event for the site.

But I guess – probably the biggest thing that’s really helped The Bits grow over the years is that we’ve just assembled a really great group of columnists. I mentioned some of them earlier and there have been others as well that made key contributions and moved on. But for example, Todd Doogan coming on board and bringing his experience as a laserdisc reviewer and his time at TNT’s Roughcut – that was a big deal. Adam Jahnke – who started as a writer for Troma – brings a really refreshing and unique expertise and writing style to the site in his Bottom Shelf and Jahnke’s Electric Theatre columns. And Barrie’s passion and knowledge of classic films is as strong and deep as anyone I know. Each of our writers comes from a different place and a different perspective, but we’re all of very similar mind in terms of our love of this stuff and what we’re trying to accomplish. These guys are a big part of The Bits’ success and popularity. Even more importantly for me though, is that they’ve all become really great friends. Hell, they’re like family at this point. So I guess that’s really the thing I’ve gained and appreciate most from The Bits over the years – the friendships with them and others in the industry.

Flightpath: You mentioned Star Wars…it’s funny, because I’m a Star Wars nerd. And I feel like, reading your review of the Blu-rays and all the Star Wars releases where Lucas makes changes to the films, you almost have to act as a therapist for Star Wars fans.

Bill Hunt: [Laughs] It’s really true. It is true. And the funny thing about that is, I’ve said a couple of times, even in my reviews, is that I’m the same way. I grew up with those films; they had a huge impact on my life. It’s taken me years to learn how to sort of separate my practical, just common sense perspective, from the feelings I have connected to Star Wars. But having done that, having been able to do that, now I find that a lot of other people still aren’t able to do that. [Laughs] So in my review, I just try and say, “There’s good and bad here, but it’s not the end of the world. This isn’t rocket science, it’s not brain surgery. The films look good.” There is an aspect of that.

The other interesting thing about this website – tied to both format wars, tied to Star Wars, tied to you name it – is that I get hundreds of emails a day from people. Just readers who have questions or who want help. One of the things I tried to do very early on was to keep The Bits very focused at sort of a mass audience. Widescreen Review is a great publication, but you have to be a real expert and enthusiast to really appreciate all the detail it’s going into. My goal was to always say, “Okay, I want to do two things. I want to expose people who are new to DVD or Blu-ray to the technology, and explain it to them in a way that they can understand, and help them to appreciate it, to get the most enjoyment out of it. And then on other side of the coin, I want to expose people to a lot of films that they maybe haven’t seen before.” One of the greatest things that ever happened to me was in college, as a film major. Growing up in North Dakota, I didn’t have a chance to see a lot of foreign films, or independent films, or art house films. And suddenly, I was a projectionist for the film department, and I was watching [Akira] Kurosawa and Sergio Leone and [Federico] Fellini. That was just an amazing time for me – discovering all these great movies from around the world. So, what I was trying to do, was sort of bring my love of those things to people who may never have seen a [Stanley] Kubrick film or a Fellini film, and say, “You know, you might really be interested in this, and here’s why.”

We didn’t want to talk to the in-crowd, necessarily. We wanted to talk to everybody. We wanted to get everybody into the fold and let everybody share in the fun. Because of that though, we’ve developed a readership where, whenever they have a question or an issue, they start emailing. [Laughs] So, you know, half my morning is spent just going through emails and trying to answer as many as I can.

Flightpath: With great power comes great responsibility.

Bill Hunt: [Laughs] I guess so. I guess so. And the other fun thing about the site is, the longer we’ve been doing it, people just sort of feel like they know you. It feels like a family, to a degree. People have no problem emailing and talking about stuff, I think, because we do put a little bit of our personality into the site. They feel like they know who we are.

Be sure to come back later this week for part 2 of our interview with Bill Hunt!

Legendary Marketing Blunders: New Coke, PS3 and More


With Netflix’s poorly planned and received announcement of Qwikster – as discussed in this iMedia blog – we thought it would be a good time to revisit some famous marketing blunders. The point here is not to poke fun. Most companies and brands that find themselves in hot water with the press or public, like the ones included below, often have good intentions and just make honest mistakes; understanding what went wrong and how they dealt with it may help others avoid the same pitfalls in the future.

New Coke. This is, of course, the big one. Based on feedback from focus groups and marketing research, Coca-Cola decided it was time to update its legendary soda (read: make it much sweeter) in the face of competition from Pepsi and other beverages. So, in 1985, Coca-Cola introduced “New Coke.” What it didn’t count on was the fact that people would miss the original Coke – a brand and taste that they grew up with – and the backlash was intense. Coca-Cola quickly pulled New Coke from the shelves and released “Coca-Cola Classic” – a new branding that told people the original formula was back, and would help them forget this whole New Coke thing ever happened. In the years since, Coca-Cola has introduced new sodas and variations on its classic formula, but in smarter ways, including unique logos and names for each (see “Coca-Cola Zero”), while keeping its flagship drink front-and-center.

PS3 announcement. The videogame market seems to go in cycles. One brand dominates for a generation (or two) of consoles, gets arrogant, and then falls from grace. Sony signaled to the gaming world that it was ready for its turn down the slide with the unveil of the PlayStation 3. Revealed at E3 2006, the price was infamously announced onstage as, “599 U.S. dollars” – higher than most had predicted or expected. The number then became videogame fan shorthand for “terrible idea” in gaming message boards around the world. To make matters worse, the price was explained by Sony execs in mind-boggling ways, like then Sony Computer Entertainment CEO Ken Kutaragi’s much-ridiculed, “[Our goal is] for consumers to think to themselves, ‘I will work more hours to buy one.’ We want people to feel that they want it, irrespective of anything else.” Just a couple of years after launch, the PS3 was rebranded, redesigned, reduced in price, and Kutaragi was gone. Today, the PS3 is still going strong.

Kevin Smith Vs. Southwest Airlines. Kevin Smith was on board a Southwest Airlines flight when he was asked to leave the plane, told he was too obese to fly safely. (Southwest has a “Customer of Size” policy, requiring heavyset customers to buy two seats if they can’t fit comfortably with both armrests down.) According to Smith, no one around him was complaining, and he was indeed able to fit in his seat with both armrests down. Southwest, not knowing who Smith was – he’s the director of Clerks, Mallrats and Chasing Amy, geek hero and frequent Twitter user with a massive following – removed him from the plane. Smith took to Twitter, firing off a barrage of angry messages detailing the situation and eviscerating Southwest. In the end, Southwest offered an apology, but stood by its policy.

NBC Vs. Conan O’Brien Vs. Jay Leno. It’s hard to believe that things got as bad as they did for NBC during 2009’s late night programming reshuffle, but then again, maybe it isn’t. In 2004, with the contracts for both Conan O’Brien (host of Late Night) and Jay Leno (host of The Tonight Show) on their way to expiration, NBC announced that it would hand over The Tonight Show reins to O’Brien in 2009. O’Brien’s dream was coming true, and while Leno wasn’t thrilled, he played ball, even inviting his future replacement onto his show to pass the baton. Not wanting to lose him to a competitor, it was later announced that Leno would stay with the network and act as O’Brien’s lead-in, with 10pm’s The Jay Leno Show. Everyone was happy – for awhile.

Historically, local news broadcasts have been very profitable for affiliate stations, and this new late night format – which would make Leno the lead-in for the 11pm news – had station owners worried. They were soon validated; both shows struggled with ratings – Leno in particular was tanking – and the local affiliates revolted. Trying to squash the unrest, NBC honcho Jeff Zucker suggested moving Leno to 11pm and The Tonight Show to after midnight – making it, in effect, The Tomorrow Show, and showing an odd disregard for the show’s legacy – while O’Brien took to lampooning NBC on the air, making for some electrifying television.

Ultimately, NBC really just wanted one of the two hosts to leave so they could get back to the old format ASAP. As it played out, O’Brien left and started a new show at TBS, wrote a heartfelt op-ed in the New York Times about the whole situation, and ended up looking better than any of the other players; Leno went back to The Tonight Show, saying it was all just “business”; and NBC returned to the old late night schedule that pleased everyone, but probably suffered the most damage to its image in many, many years, for both its treatment of O’Brien and its inability to manage the crisis.

JetBlue strands passengers. JetBlue was kind of the Netflix of airlines for most of the 2000s: it was perceived as the young upstart, customer-friendly, and more fashionable than its bigger competitors. But a lot of that goodwill was lost with the February 2007 ice-storm debacle that saw passengers left waiting on tarmacs and not allowed to disembark from their planes for over 8 hours, or stranded at airports with little to no info on the status of their flights. (JetBlue had a policy of never canceling flights, which resulted in a lot of the confusion.) It was a real black eye for the airline, whose CEO went on a damage-control tour – including a classic David Letterman appearance – and issued a Customer Bill of Rights in response. JetBlue remains popular today, having mostly recovered from this incident, and has become more pro-active in regards to weather (“Travel Alerts” are clearly posted on its homepage), flight-status, and customer relations (see the “Speak Up” link on its site) than ever before.

If the mood should strike you, tell us about another interesting marketing snafu in the comments section.

Great Scott! 2011 Nike MAG Marketing Hits 88mph


A generation’s dream came true this week with Nike’s unveiling of the 2011 Nike MAG – self-lacing sneakers inspired by Marty McFly’s kicks in Back to the Future II, which were the envy of children everywhere in the 1980s. The reason we’re talking about it here? The marketing campaign – mostly digital, with short video clips, websites and online word-of-mouth – has thus far been brilliant, hitting all the right nostalgia/curiosity/funny buttons.

It started with a YouTube clip called “McFly’s Closet,” posted on September 6 by an account named DocEmmettBrown88. (Awesome.) The clip has received over 1.5 million views in just 3 days.

And yesterday came the launch of, featuring a great new short with Bill Hader and Doc Brown himself, Christopher Lloyd – looking and sounding just like we remember – as well as the significant announcement that Nike would be auctioning off 1,500 pairs of Nike MAGs, with all proceeds going to The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research. It’s something totally unexpected and simply good-spirited – all the more because eBay Google co-founder Sergey Brin and his wife Anne Wojcicki will be matching donations up to $50 million.

This is an example of marketing at its best: fun, inventive, and completely feel-good. And it makes us excited for what’s coming next. Kudos to Nike – now we just need those hoverboards, and the human race will have achieved perfection.

Interview: Hank Kanalz, Senior Vice President of Digital for DC Entertainment

DC Comics – home to classic superheroes Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman and more – made headlines this summer with the announcement that it would be rebooting its entire line with 52 new No. 1 issues. In “The New 52,” characters are being de-aged (and in Superman’s case, de-married), redesigned and revamped in efforts to connect DC with a wider audience, and hopefully reverse the trend of the industry’s rapidly declining sales. It looks like DC might be onto something; according to USA Today, pre-orders for the debut issue of the new Justice League have passed 200,000 copies, already making it the year’s biggest seller. In another big move coinciding with the relaunch, DC, which is owned by Time Warner, will now release every comic in digital on the same day as the print version, marking a true acceptance of the format as playing a key role in the future of comic books.

In advance of tomorrow’s historic launch, we spoke with Hank Kanalz, Senior Vice President, Digital of DC Entertainment, about the decision to go same-day digital, fighting piracy, and why he’ll never get rid of his print comics.

Flightpath: We’re right around the corner of the big relaunch. What’s the feeling around the DC offices right now?

Hank Kanalz: You know, not to sound cliche, but it’s positively electric. We moved into a brand new space, we’re all under one roof working on this incredible project. It’s so exciting. We’ve had daily updates on what’s going on, hourly check-in points on moving towards this launch. I’m knocking on wood – everything’s going according to plan.

Flightpath: The relaunch represents a real move towards embracing digital with same-day digital and print releases. What made now the right time for that?

Hank Kanalz: It was a very clean time, you know, with the 52 new number ones as a jumping on point for new readers. So what better way to get new readers than to go as wide as possible with all these number ones? And to go as wide as possible, you have to go digital. We could’ve kept this all in print, but if you want to reach an audience that can’t necessarily get their comic books, digital is the way to get to that audience.

Flightpath: I know that the whole industry had kind of resisted same-day digital releases for different reasons – not wanting to anger retailers, not wanting to cannibalize sales of the print version. Was the decision to go same-day digital a no-brainer with the relaunch, or was there some internal debate about it?

Hank Kanalz: From my perspective, it was definitely a no-brainer, and it’s something that we’ve been pushing for for quite some time. We were pushing for this, in my group, obviously long before The New 52 was announced. As a company, historically speaking, it’s something that we’ve always been looking at. And when we restructured, it became a top priority for us, so we went from 0 to 100 miles an hour in a matter of minutes.

So yeah, it was very much a no-brainer. But if you take a look at what’s out there too, we’ve been noticing that there’s a lot of the pirate sites, so we were already losing some of our audience to piracy. So why not give people an honest alternative to get their comic book material, right?

Flightpath: Yeah, I wanted to ask about that. How big a problem is comic book piracy? I remember years ago, a friend of mine sending me a PDF; someone had just scanned their comic and uploaded it, and I never would have thought in a million years that anyone would do that. Do you see that as something impacting your business?

Hank Kanalz: Oh, absolutely. It impacts the entire entertainment business, not just us. We’re certainly not alone, and we’re fighting this together as a company. Warner Bros. – Time Warner specifically – we take a big stand against piracy. I don’t know if we’ve ever done a study to look at the financial impact, I don’t know if that’s possible, but clearly it’s impacting our business in general.

Flightpath: The LA Times says that print comic book sales have dropped consistently over the last three years, and they’re down 7 percent in 2011. Why do you think that is, and do you think that releasing them same-day digital, and just having more digital initiatives, will help reverse the trend?

Hank Kanalz: I definitely do. I mean, that was a very candid article. I read it, and I was like, “Wow, I’m really surprised at how candid the article is!” [Laughs] But, you know, it’s the world we live in. Obviously, as the SVP of digital, I firmly believe that this is additive and this is definitely something that grows the entire business. This is not just, “Here’s another way to turn a buck.” This is something that I think will have a very positive impact on the industry in general, print specifically, and then comic shops as well. This is a terrific way to get new readers into our business.

You are never going to replace that tangible feeling of holding a comic book. You know, we have an archive library here too. Walking into that library, there’s this terrific smell of collected paper comics. And for that reason, I will never get rid of my comics. It’s my collection. It’s part of who I am, and the years I’ve been collecting.

But yeah, we absolutely believe it’s completely additive, and it raises all the boats. We’re talking about DC, but this is not just a DC thing.

Flightpath: I’ve been waiting for a day where I could buy graphic novels and download the single issues. At the same time, I do still love the single issues that I had growing up, and I’ll always keep them. If you look at the music industry, vinyl is making a comeback. I don’t think print will ever go away, in the same way that vinyl still means something to people.

Hank Kanalz: I don’t think it will ever go away either. But this is a great sampling opportunity. How unique is it to get someone to try something for free, or for 99 cents, or $1.99, or even $2.99? Here, try this one thing, it’s only gonna cost you two bucks. If you like it, you can buy a whole bunch more in the same format, or push this button here, and we’ll tell you exactly where your closest comic book shop is. And go there, and pick up everything that you can get your hands on and can afford to.

What if someone says, “You’ve got to read Planetary. It’s an amazing series.” You’ve got a couple of options. Find a comic shop, get a back issue, try it, and then purchase your trades or your hardcovers. Go to our app though – real easy, and sometimes we run that first issue for free or 99 cents – try it, if you like it, you can buy all 27 issues right there. Or you can go to your bookstore, and now you know that if you’re going to invest the money in it, that you’ve tried it and you liked it and you want to buy more. I can’t see how it’s not additive.

Flightpath: It seems to me that all the digital stuff you’re doing is a way to break down the barrier of having to go to a comic book store or having to find this stuff on your own. It just makes it a lot easier.

Hank Kanalz: It really does. I actually have some friends who thought that Green Lantern was a movie character. They had no concept that it was based on a comic book. It became the topic of the barbecue. “How could you not know he was a comic book character?” They don’t have access, so they didn’t know. And they loved the movie! “So if you love the movie, then step into my library.” So I set them up, and then I was realizing when I was stacking some books [for] them, it would be easier if I just got them the digital [copies], so they don’t have to carry it on their vacation. It’s just so convenient.

There probably are people who don’t realize that Batman is a character that comes from the comic books. They know him and were introduced to him by either the cartoon show or the movies. There’s a generation that was introduced to Batman in the ’60s with the Adam West version. It’s a completely different entry point. So I would like to have our material readily available, and the best way to get it readily available is this, as digital. So you’re looking at your DVD, and in there you can have a preview of a book. It’s great.

Flightpath: Can you talk a little bit about the actual digital delivery? How’s it going to work, from what’s available to actual ownership of digital files?

Hank Kanalz: When you make your purchase, you’ll be able to download the files to read onto your device. If you’re going to be reading it through the Web, it streams, so you don’t actually have the files downloaded to your hard drive. But if it’s on your iPad or on [other platforms], it downloads the file. So you can load up your iPad and then get on a plane and read an entire series, depending on how you’ve structured your memory allocation on the device itself.

We’ve been experimenting with different ways for people to purchase in bundles or series or collections. There will be more developments with that over the next couple of months, but right now we’re selling the backlist as individual issues. We run the occasional sale, where you can buy everything in the sale or you can select the different items that are for sale. We have character 101s, so there’s a “Batman 101,” which is basically your introduction to Batman and then 101 of his essential books that we have available digitally, that we recommend you try. So we do that with all our characters, and we rotate those through. And we get new customers that way too, so whenever we get new customers, they start their library with this great sale and they add to it after that.

Flightpath: And what about price-point?

Hank Kanalz: Our standard price is $1.99, and then we have select backlist items that are either free or 99 cents. For the same-day digital books, we’ll be matching the price for the first month as the [$2.99] print price. It’s very interesting. I really thought that people would wait until the price drops, but people want their comics and they want them now. So they’ve been purchasing at the same price. And we want price parity because we want people to choose, but we don’t want them to choose because of price-point. We want them to choose because of their preferred format. Some people actually don’t want a big long box in their apartment or house; they don’t have the room, their spouse won’t let them, they just don’t want to deal with moving it – they prefer to keep their comics digitally. So we want to give them that choice. But then after a month, which is pretty much the period of time that comic shops will sell their frontlist books before they put them in the back bins, we’ll drop it to $1.99, and it becomes a backlist title. If the comic book happens to be $3.99 on the stands, then it will drop down to $2.99.

Flightpath: On an iPad, double-page spreads might not fit the aspect ratio of the screen perfectly. Do you think the digital format will cause the art form to change and evolve?

Hank Kanalz: I don’t think so. We don’t have any intentions of limiting double-page spreads; they’re just too spectacular and fun. All we really do when we prepare for digital is we set it so that all you have to do is turn your iPad to landscape, and then it really does look beautiful. And depending on how the artist constructed the pages…if it’s a full-bleed page, we really try and accommodate that, but then we have the black framing, so it’s really not noticeable that it doesn’t fit perfectly in there. It has the same dramatic impact, I think. And then the difference though, is now that with the iPad, you can zoom in and you can see all the stuff that you would otherwise miss.

Flightpath: Let’s say someone might love comic book movies, but they don’t buy comics or they don’t know where to start. Is there one title from the new DC relaunch that you’d recommend as a good place to get on board?

Hank Kanalz: Oh, goodness. It’s so hard to be objective. We’re so immersed in it. My entry comic book that really got me hooked was Justice League, because it has all the characters. [Justice League No. 1’s] got such a nice feel, and it really is drawn cinematically and paced cinematically. I’m not just saying that because it’s coming out [tomorrow], and we’ve been working hard on this issue. It looks terrific. That’s a great starting point. I would say that, obviously if they’re a fan of a particular movie, then stick with that. If you’re a Batman movie fan, then Batman and Detective Comics are obviously the way to go. But Justice League has it all. It has all the characters, it’s a great starting off point, and you don’t need to know anything that happened prior to that point.

Our Favorite Websites

What makes a great website? Sure, there are basics like quality navigation, layout, design, and content, but there’s also personality, smarts, and the ultimate barometer: does it have that special something to make you return?

There’s a wide array of content and style to the thousands of web sites floating around, yet they all co-exist in the same space. When you find one that hits all the right buttons – and it can be completely different from your other favorite destinations – chances are you’ll be a fan for a long, long time.

Here’s a short list of what we feel are some of the best sites on the Web that fit the above criteria, ranging from e-commerce to fan-made experiences to professional news.

The Onion A.V. Club – The Onion A.V. Club is, far and away, the best pop culture/arts periodical in publication today. It features a stunning collection of interviews with comedians (Louis C.K., Tracy Morgan), rock legends (Paul McCartney, Nick Lowe), filmmakers (John Carpenter, Christopher Nolan) and more; reviews of albums, movies, books and comics; a lively community of readers who comment in droves on stories; lengthy dissections of television shows in its “TV Club” section; “Random Roles,” where actors discuss parts they’ve played over the course of their careers; and lots, lots more. The writing is smart across the board, and there’s always some new feature popping up that’s creative and fun (I particularly love Pop Pilgrims, a video series where the A.V. Club travels to actual places that have a place in pop culture history, such as the Chicago towers that are featured on the cover of Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot). The best part: it’s updated pretty much throughout the day, on a constant basis. Essential. – Dan

NeoGAF – This one is a little niche, and it maybe stretches the definition of “website,” but in terms of popularity, usage and content, it’s astonishing. NeoGAF is a videogame message board. That’s it. But it’s the place to go if you’re into gaming. News breaks here first (“leaks” may be more accurate a term), industry professionals are known to lurk or even post, it’s moderated tightly and professionally, and it’s filled with fun topics like people posting photos of their collections, media setup, rare gaming finds, shopping hauls, and more. The comments and discussions – the core of the NeoGAF experience – are often lively, very funny, and just a little crazy. Together, it all makes for a good time, and the very best destination for gaming news and discussions on the planet. – Dan

X-Entertainment – Never mind the unfortunate you-may-be-getting-a-call-from-your-IT-department website name and URL; this site is a gem. X-Entertainment is part-time machine, part-autobiography, as it features one man’s recollections and explorations of 1980s pop culture, including cartoons, commercials and toys, and what they mean to him. You’ll be delighted and amazed at the screen grabs of He-Man commercials and the lengthy essays on the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, and you’ll wonder how you ever missed Garbage Pail Kids Tacky Snappers. What’s best about this site, however, is its honesty; there’s a love for lots of this junk that charmingly shines through in the writing, but there’s also an acceptance that a lot of what we loved when we were kids was, indeed, junk. Check out X-Entertainment’s blog for its latest content. – Dan

Nike – Makes you feel like you’re in a Niketown store. Easy to navigate, see what’s new, find clearance deals and check out, and the highlighted free shipping offer (over $100) is appreciated. Clearly my fave e-commerce site, and they have the best customer service call-in group this side of Zappos…must be a foot thing! – Cliff

ESPN – As a sports nut, I would be remiss to not mention ESPN as one of the top online destinations that I frequently visit. The navigation is easy to follow and it’s the premiere source for breaking news on all things sports. The combination of its use of video and images to complement stories make every visit engaging and entertaining. Whether I’m there for the latest trade rumors, or to update my fantasy team each week, ESPN always gets a daily visit from me. – John

Mashable – So you like technology and social media? You better know Mashable. It has grown into one of the leading sources of information for all things digital, and with their constant stream of stories, it is no wonder. They’ve done a great job of including various social elements as well making it easy to not only read the information, but also share and add your two cents very quickly. The site is divided into sub topics which makes it incredibly easy to use and find exactly what you’re looking for. The writing is great, and breaks down sometimes complex information into everyday language that is easily digested. – John

And that’s our short list. What do you think? What are some of your favorites? Let us know in the comments section below.

Netflix Increases Prices: Reason to Get Angry?


Much has been made over the last few weeks about Netflix’s announcement that prices would be increasing: unlimited streaming and unlimited DVDs (one at a time) combined in one plan has gone up from $9.99 to $15.98, or you can get either for $7.99. Netflix was always seen as a trustworthy underdog, cutting-edge and young. The Apple to Blockbuster’s Microsoft. But now, people are mad. Many feel the price increase is too steep, too soon, and with no major additions to the streaming library, too unjust. Has Netflix become everything it once set out to destroy, or at the very least, that we hoped it would destroy?

The reaction online – Twitter, Facebook, news sites, and seemingly everywhere it was covered – was pretty vitriolic. Here are some selections from the Netflix blog (grammar kept in the posts’ original form):

“Dear Netflix,

Individually your DVD and steaming services do not offer enough to justify their expense. As a bundled service they supplement each other and provide the value that made Netflix wonderful. DVDs allowed you to view newer releases in a fairly timely manner. Streaming allowed for viewing of the older catalog of movies that come up when you think of it but might not be worth waiting for to arrive in the mail.

I average 5 DVDs a month. I can replace these rentals with RedBox for $5 and save $3 based on your subscription prices. This replacement would also remove the 28 day wait that comes with most new releases available through Netflix. Likewise, I can replace your streaming service with Amazon Prime and save an additional $2 a month. Again, this would eliminate the unnecessary delay in availability of newer releases.” – Willie Williams

“Dear Netflix,
After 3 years, I’m sorry but it’s over. If I switch to blockbuster I will have a greater streaming selection, with newer movies, plus games, and it will cost me only 75% of your new rates. Its been great, but its over. It’s not us, its you. Enjoy the bankruptcy.” – Adam Lundquist

“You can spin this any way you want, Netflix, but it comes down to simple greed. With limited new content on your streaming service, I will be definitely be canceling that and will probably cancel DVD service as well just on principle. Time to sign up for Hulu Plus! Go ahead and change your name to Blockbuster, because with more stupid decisions like this, it’s only a matter of time before you go by the wayside like they did.” – Anonymous

And now some comments from The Onion AV Club (again, grammar kept in its original form):

“Their streaming catalog isn’t nearly vast enough to justify dropping the physical disc aspect of the service. There’s too much content only available in disc form, including most new releases. People aren’t going to go for a streaming only service until they add more worthwhile content.” – realmike15

“we can start our own company! we’ll call it Webfilmz. we’ll be the little guy at first, pounding the pavement for sales, but with lots of hard work and luck, our plucky company would succeed in bringing affordable entertainment to everyone!

then, once we have the trust of our clients, we can jack up the prices and live like kings! it’s the american dream!” – Or

“I, for one, have decided to switch to gulp Blockbuster Online for Blu-ray rentals and for streaming. You can join Amazon Prime for $79/yr and basically get the same old crap that Netflix streams plus you get free 2-day shipping from Amazon. I’ll still come out a few dollars ahead of the new Netflix rate.” – The Jewish Brad Pitt

My opinion? The price hike is annoying, but it’s no reason to storm the castle in the way we’ve seen. $15.98 isn’t a bad deal for the selection provided; in fact, while it’s 60% higher than what we used to pay, it’s actually still a pretty good deal. I can catch up on Breaking Bad via discs, while at the same time stream every season of Futurama, weird Troma horror movies, and Wet Hot American Summer whenever I want, for less than what I pay for HBO and HBO On Demand? That’s not bad. As Willie Williams mentioned above, I can combine different services to save a couple of bucks compared to this new pricing structure, but A) I’m too lazy for that, B) the convenience of having it all come from one place outweighs the money I’d be saving, and C) I can stream Netflix on my PS3, which I do almost daily. Plus, I still like the company. I don’t think Netflix has gone to the Dark Side yet (I blame the cost of shipping and the movie studios as the main culprits in the price increase) and when this all gets to where it’s going – a complete, streaming library – my hunch is that Netflix will be leading the pack in terms of content and affordability. They’re really the ones who’ve led us this far, and I still respect them for offering an easy, enjoyable alternative to the old ways.

So, I’m still on board with Netflix. Just so long as they don’t remove Futurama from streaming. Then I might have to grab my pitchfork (which is weird that I have one, considering I live in an apartment in Brooklyn).

Interview: Mike Nelson of RiffTrax and Mystery Science Theater 3000


Mike Nelson is a hero to those who love (or love to hate) bad movies. Having served as head writer and host of the classic TV series Mystery Science Theater 3000, Nelson played a large role in elevating movie riffing into a new form of comedy. After the show ceased production in 1999, he kept the flame alive with various projects, but most significantly with the 2006 launch of RiffTrax. An innovative site where users download audio commentaries and sync them with DVDs and Blu-rays, RiffTrax – which features Nelson and fellow MST3K stars Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett – lampoons everything from Michael Bay’s Transformers to classics like Casablanca to oddities like Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny. RiffTrax has also produced a series of successful live shows that are simulcast to movie theaters nationwide, with the latest installment set for August 17: a riffing of the low-grade 1962 fantasy adventure, Jack the Giant Killer. We recently spoke with Nelson about taking a chance on Twilight, sending the Tweet that may have started an Internet forest fire, and blowing up a cheese factory.

Flightpath: I know that after MST3K, you started doing some commentaries for Legend Films on DVD releases like Plan 9 From Outer Space and Little Shop of Horrors, and that led to RiffTrax. But when did the idea of “let’s record commentaries on MP3s and have users sync them with their DVDs” actually hatch?

Mike Nelson: It was actually quite awhile ago. I think probably the first time we ever did some specials for MST, we got to use modern movies because we were just taking bits of the EPK and using that. People were like, “Why aren’t you guys doing this,” which is fairly obvious, why we weren’t. We were thinking in the old days about bundling DVDs with the commentary, kind of before MP3s really took over. So it had been brewing for awhile.

Flightpath: I find that part of the charm of RiffTrax is the syncing. It gives it kind of an underground feel and adds to the experience.

Mike Nelson: You know, we sort of tentatively launched it. We knew that there was at least some demand, because I would get emails. A lot of people saying, “Why aren’t you doing this? This idea is so obvious, you should do this!” And so I knew that there were at least some people who were interested in it, but people say a lot of things. We get suggestions for movies, and people are like, “This would be killer, we would love this,” and then nobody buys it because it’s just a little too off the beaten path. So this seems like it could’ve taken that route, but like you say, there’s a savviness to people who like to be early adopters, and there’s something fun about it.

Flightpath: With RiffTrax, you can do anything because you’re only offering the audio files. Was that really freeing for you compared to MST3K, where your scope was more limited?

Mike Nelson: Yeah, and time limits [on MST3K] were kind of frustrating. Not always, because sometimes you could edit a film and make it actually better than the filmmakers did [Laughs], so you could leave out all the dull parts. But a little bit restricting when you were cutting a lot of stuff that was funny. And that was frustrating for us because we’d write the movie first before we’d edit it, because we just didn’t know how much time we could have. And you’d have to cut a favorite passage because if you didn’t include another part that you needed for the plot…it just presented a lot of complications. So to just be able to do the movie, is sort of freeing.

Flightpath: I wanted to know if I could go through a few RiffTrax with you, and you could give your thoughts on the movie itself and how you attacked it.

Mike Nelson: Sure.

Flightpath: Okay, Birdemic?

Mike Nelson: [Laughs] Well, it’s one of those things we’ve been talking about a lot lately, because a couple of people have emailed and said, “Why did you make me sit through that?” And I think they meant it sincerely. [Laughs] A lot of times people are kidding. It’s one of those things where it’s like, it’s totally indefensible that I like it, because generally, despite what I do for a living, I like to champion good things. But there’s this fun side that’s undeniable, and sometimes things that are totally inexplicable make you laugh. And again, this is one of those where I find it absolutely delightful. And yet if you go, “That is the worst thing. Banish it to the deepest pits of Hell,” I’d be hard pressed to disagree with you.

Flightpath: Twilight?

Mike Nelson: Twilight was very risky for us. In fact, I had a bet with the CEO of Legend, who we partner with. He said, “No, it’s a girl movie. It’s not our audience at all. It’s a bad idea and it’s a risk.” So I bet him a sushi lunch that it would be a success. And it was one of our biggest ones, and it was really, really fun once we weighed it in, because obviously none of the people who work at Legend would be watching these movies or know anything about them. So screening it was a delight, because we were like, “Wow, this is the movie we’ve been waiting for.” [Laughs]

Flightpath: I just felt that with its long dramatic pauses and how serious it took itself, it was perfect for you guys.

Mike Nelson: Yeah, we always are laying out the criteria. We say it has to be sincere, and you know, the pauses – that’s just sort of a technical thing, you have to have room to say something – and it has to have goofy elements. And, boy oh boy, does it excel at all of those things.

Flightpath: The Room?

Mike Nelson: That was also a risky one. We had heard the rumblings about this being the “new B-movie.” There’s something about these really bad movies that you have to know the story going in. You have to know, is this sincere? Is this a put-on? Because how do you relax and enjoy how bad it is when you’re sitting there going, “What is this? Who made this?” And that was my concern about it, that it was just too weird. But then like, two viewings of it convinced me. Once you sort of see the disjointed logic and everything, and you get the story of it, it really helps, and that made it enjoyable. And it was successful for us. But again, another movie like Birdemic, that stands on its own, but we think is enhanced by us.

Flightpath: And you met [The Room director and star] Tommy Wiseau?

Mike Nelson: I didn’t meet him face-to-face. We had several discussions with him; he was concerned about our RiffTrax, and he called us up. I think he really thought that we were stealing his movie or something. I don’t think he fully understood what we were saying, that it was just a commentary to it. But he – for a long time – tried to talk us into settling a lawsuit that he was going to bring, and I think we just couldn’t get through to him.

But then after that, coincidentally, he was at Comic-Con, and my son who had seen The Room went and waited in line for him and got pictures with him and with [Greg Sestero, who plays Mark in The Room], and he mentioned who he was. And again, Wiseau seemed confused, but [Greg] was like, “Oh yeah, I heard about this. I heard it’s really funny!” And he’s since admitted that he loves it. So at least somebody knows and understands the spirit of it and thinks it’s funny.

Flightpath: The Internet has evolved into a real destination for comedy, from Funny or Die to College Humor to RiffTrax. Why do you think that is?

Mike Nelson: I think [it’s] immediate access to things that you really like without the filter. You can pick or choose what or when or where. Now that that’s becoming just totally ingrained, I just don’t see that changing. I don’t see the tides of that changing, especially with Hulu and all of that. It just makes no sense. The gatekeepers, I think they’re in trouble as far as that goes, because you can make something and give it directly to the people who want to have it for exactly the kind of arrangements you want to make on it.

I love it. I mean, obviously RiffTrax couldn’t be possible without that, and just connecting on that level and reacting to what people want to see very quickly, I think makes it exciting.

Flightpath: Kind of an extension of that is Twitter, which has drawn a lot of comedy writers and comedians, and you got on board pretty early. What do you think of Twitter?

Mike Nelson: I like it. My use for it is fairly limited. People like me to crack wise about stuff, and that’s pretty much what I use it for: mostly jokes, a few advertisements about what we’re doing – which I never feel bad about, because I’m talking to the very audience who presumably likes what I have. I just try to make it a nice balance of very light stuff and things of interest, pointing things out to people and jokes, and then a few bulletins about what we’ve got going on. It works for me, and then all the people that I think are funny or want to pay attention to, I do the same. It’s perfect.

I know from the outside, when I first was looking into Twitter, I just didn’t understand. “Why? Who would do this?” You have to maybe spend a couple of hours actually doing Twitter and reading what’s going on, and then you get it. “Oh, okay, I understand how these little bulletins work.”

Flightpath: I’d imagine it’s also kind of a good comedy workout, in that you have 140 characters to say what’s in your head perfectly and funny.

Mike Nelson: Yeah. It’s very similar to what we do with RiffTrax, because you get this setup and you get this amount of space to say it in. So we’ve been well-practiced at that. I did a book once [in the Pop Ink series with the Charles S. Anderson Design Company]; it was graphics mostly, but they wanted commentary on it. When I collaborated with them, they would send me the pages back and say, “You need to trim three letters from this.” [Laughs] You know, it became so unbelievably technical. But I had been trained for like, “Okay, make it three letters shorter. How do you reword it to make it fit?” I kind of like the challenge of that.

Flightpath: Did you send the Tweet that basically created Rebecca Black? Is that true?

Mike Nelson: I have been credited for that. We were watching that over the weekend that that happened, and it did sort of fan out from my Tweet about it. Usually just by sheer scale on Twitter, when you post something and you get the replies, you’re kind of like, “Okay, I got 30 or 40 or whatever, that’s fairly decent,” – direct replies or ReTweets or whatever – and this one was just like, insane. Just so many people responding, and it just went on and on. I happened to be traveling that weekend, so I was sort of paying half an eye to it. But another writer here, Conor Lastowka, was Tweeting me, “Uh, we’re up to however many million, and it’s climbing.” So that was kind of fun to watch. It did seem to fan out from there. And obviously you never know for sure. It’s like the forest fire thing. It’s really hard to know what was the thing that started it all.

Flightpath: How do you compare writing for RiffTrax, which is released quickly and online – people can get it instantly – with writing for other mediums you’ve worked in, like TV and print?

Mike Nelson: I just consider the writing of RiffTrax a hard slog at times, because you’re concentrating so much that the amount of time that it takes would probably surprise people, and probably be pretty daunting to most writers. But once you get the efficiencies of it, and you understand what you’re doing – and obviously we’ve done this a lot – there’s something very nice about relaxing into that. It’s like, some people just like doing manual labor to think. This is kind of the opposite. It gets you away from all of the other writing. You know, writing is hard, and I always try to avoid it. Even though I do it for a living, and I’m constantly writing.

When I hear people say, “Oh, when I just have some downtime, I just love to do some writing,” I’m like, “Really? Are you insane? It’s really, really hard!” But there is an element of relaxation to doing it for RiffTrax, where you know what you have ahead of you and it looks like a lot of work. It’s kind of like when I was a kid, I used to like when my dad would to tell me to move a big stack of wood. It was just like, “Well, you know, you just have to do it.” And there’s something about that, of just having this large task ahead of you, and just putting your head down and doing it.

Flightpath: RiffTrax is going back to movie theaters with a new live event. What can you tell us about the movie that you’re going to be riffing and the live experience?

Mike Nelson: Live is always exciting for us, because rarely do we get the immediate feedback. Like I said, you’re sitting in a room doing the slog of writing, and then when we get together amongst ourselves it’s always fun to sort of refine the script. That’s got a writing room feel to it. But you’re still not interacting with an audience, and so that’s always a blast, and the feeling of the infectiousness of laughs is just good for the soul.

The movie that we have is sort of a lift for us, because in the past we were sort of limited to public domain movies, and we’ve worked a lot of the best ones. Titles that could be recognized by an audience and get people excited, we’ve already done. And so this being a brand new one is pretty exciting for us. It’s Jack the Giant Killer, which is kind of a Sinbad adventure-style movie, with stop-animation giants, and wizards and witches and leprechauns in jars, and stuff like that. So it’s pretty perfect for us. It’s not quite an A-level version of that movie; it’s definitely in the B camp.

Flightpath: I have one last question. This is one thing I’ve always wondered. How close was the actual young Mike Nelson in real life compared to the one seen in the MST3K episode Time Chasers, who had hockey hair, temped in a cheese factory, and was in a band called Sex Factory?

Mike Nelson: [Laughs] It wasn’t very close. The cheese factory simulation was spot on, but I was basically playing guys that I had worked with at the cheese factory. I was the odd man out there and looked on as kind of strange, but yeah, through college I worked nights at a cheese factory. It was like 12 to 14 hour days, and I just did it because it was a job that was close. About a couple of years into it I realized that everyone I was working with had been making like five times as much as me, because it was the most hated job in the world and no one would do it. I was like, making minimum wage, putting in 14 hours a night. Stories of the cheese factory never ended in the writing room, and finally the guys were like, “Can we just do an episode about this?”

Flightpath: Well, I’m glad you got out.

Mike Nelson: [Laughs] I did, I did. My fantasy was that I’d make it big in Hollywood, and I would buy the cheese factory, I’d pay off all the workers, have a huge party, and we’d blow up the factory. That’s every guy’s dream when you have a bad job.

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.

Social Media is Finding Marketing To Be A Real Experience


Experience is one of the few things that truly cuts both ways. For some, experience becomes a life (and creatively) limiting reality. Beyond the obvious “been there done that,” it’s more like “jadedness trumps freshness,” prohibiting people from thinking, trying, or doing new things, without them realizing it. For others, experience provides real-time context that plays out in real-anytime value, as they learn from experience and use it to help themselves evolve. And still there is a middle ground; with social media, technology may have created a balance between the under-experienced and those who are more senior.

Just so we’re transparently straight with each other from the get go: I am way closer to 53 than 35. It used to be in the advertising agency and marketing business that if you were a late 40-something, you were on the outside looking in. As if your brain shut down and headed to Boca. As alluded to above, experience doesn’t in-and-of itself equate to anything, but it is a dynamic that could be a difference maker in this economy and maybe a re-think of today’s marketing talent pool. Especially when you overlay it on social/digital landscapes.

The social landscape is really the great equalizer in business in 2011. Now, regardless of socio-economic, demographic or even educational background, real practical experience can be had through any number of social networks. LinkedIn Groups provide tremendous knowledge, as well as networking value. Facebook and Twitter, as we all know, create experiential touches with people, places and things that without, would be hard to get. So in a weird way, experience – be it in “years of” or through engaged social communities – is the secret and unifying sauce that just about every business needs today. Said another way, the more experience you can bring to bare, the better the possibility for really exciting, meaningful and original solutions.

Marketing, a creative experience like life itself, comes in many colors and shades. Gray just historically wasn’t one of them. Because the most sought after demo historically were young males/adults, like 18-24 or fine, up to 36, young account people and young creatives “could only” be the people who could relate.

How ridiculous is this whole thing? Why does there need to be a separation? The real experienced talent and the less experienced, but “current” talent, could be a compelling, dynamic duo. Technology has reduced much of the old so-called “Generation Gap,” given it provides a common language and landscape. Maybe one way to really think about experience today is to view it simply as a fluid and complimentary competency that supports strategy and/or messaging in marketing traditional, social or any media.

Interview: Professor John Carey of Fordham University on 3D Technology, From Photography to YouTube – Part 2


In the final installment of our two-part interview on the history and future of 3D with John Carey, Professor of Communications and Media Management at Fordham University, the co-author (with Martin Elton) of When Media Are New discusses YouTube’s foray into 3D, the hurdles still facing the technology, and what will succeed it.

Flightpath: It seems to me that Avatar fueled the new 3D craze, including the push for 3D TVs. Was that the case, or were the TVs in the pipeline, and then Avatar just happened to be this huge success?

John Carey: I think the TVs were in the pipeline, and Avatar helped. Now, having said that, 3D TVs did not do well last year. As I understand it, they are not doing that well this year. Now, there are lots of reasons for that. You have the problem of multiple standards, which you had in the early days of HD also. In other words, there are three or four 3D standards, different types of glasses, and when people see that, they tend to say, “I might bet on the wrong horse here, and I’m gonna wind up with the wrong 3D, and no one’s going to produce [content] for this.” So that’s an issue. There’s also the cost of the glasses, which is a big issue. There’s active and passive 3D. The passive glasses can be as cheap as the ones you had in the old days for the movies, and essentially they don’t cost anything. And the active ones are like $150.

Once again, I’ll do a comparison with HD. How did HD get known by people? Often, it was some big television event like the Super Bowl, and you invited 15 people over, and they saw your HD television set and they said, “This is fabulous, I’ve got to get one.” If you did that with 3D, you’d have to have 15 sets of glasses. Well, that’s $1500. That’s a big problem.

Flightpath: If you have 15 people in a room, can you all be looking at it from different angles? Or do you have to be directly in front of the TV?

John Carey: That’s another issue. Once again, it varies with the standard. With some standards, you have a fairly wide viewing area, with other standards you have to be pretty much directly in front. So if you had 15 people in a room, yeah, that would be a problem.

Wearing the glasses for a long period of time is an issue. If you think about it, these active glasses, they’re somewhat heavy. Think about people who are doing something else while they’re watching television; they’re reading the newspaper, many of them will have their computer open. So you’re gonna have the problem of, essentially, looking at the screen and then looking down and having to take off your glasses. That’s a significant issue.

The other thing that’s a challenge to 3D TV is that 3D without glasses is coming along. You already have it with one of the new videogame systems.

Flightpath: Yeah, I wanted to ask you about the Nintendo 3DS. They were able to introduce glasses-free 3D to the mass market.

John Carey: It’s called auto-stereoscopic, and it works. There are two issues. You have to be looking directly at it, but since it’s typically one person using the videogame [system], that’s okay. It also is, at the moment, outrageously expensive for anything but a very small screen. So if you have a [portable] game [system], and it’s five inches by five inches, that’s okay. If you tried to make a TV set that was, say, 40 inches, it would cost several thousand dollars. Having said that, like all electronic technologies, the price will come down. The estimates I’ve seen are that auto-stereoscopic 3D will probably be feasible for regular television sets in five to seven years. In that sense, 3D with glasses has a [small] window of opportunity.

And then, coming behind that, will be holographic television. The Japanese have the 2020 Summer Olympics and they say they will be broadcasting that or cablecasting it in holographic television. Other people say that’s too ambitious. Now, holographic television exists. It’s used a little bit in medical imaging, but a set right now would cost about $40,000-$50,000, so that’s not feasible. And it’s roughly 10-15 years away.

So these are all the things that are coming down the line, and the current generation of 3D has to kind of find its place before these other things take over.

Flightpath: Do you think that without the use of glasses, 3D will be the success people wanted it to be in the ’50s, or will it always play second fiddle to 2D?

John Carey: I think it will ultimately be successful. But I think what is gonna happen is that it will not be like HD, where let’s say, 75% of programs [are available in HD], and it will eventually be 100%. 3D, I think, will never be 100%, and there are a few reasons for that. One is that, with 3D with glasses, if you watch it for a long period of time, like five or six hours, almost everybody gets a headache. So what that means is, unlike HD, where your goal would be that you’d get an HD set and then everything would be in HD, with 3D, the goal would be you’d get a 3D set, and then maybe one of two hours a night, you would watch shows that lend themselves the most to 3D and then the rest would be in 2D. It’s likely [that] sports will be big-time 3D, and then in terms of other genres, I’m not quite sure which will be successful. And it also may be that over time, production techniques will change to take advantage of 3D. That’s happened with HD. If you look at production over the last 10 years, HD lends itself more to bright colors and pastels. It lends itself to moving shots, like from a helicopter, so you see more of that in production. It doesn’t lend itself so well to dark scenes. So like, Law & Order really doesn’t look particularly good in HD. A different set of issues will come and play out in 3D, as we learn what works in 3D.

Flightpath: A key to early television adoption was having TVs in bars, and the same was true for HDTVs. Do you think that will be a key for 3D TV?

John Carey: It’s absolutely a key thing. The story about early television in the late ’40s and bars, that’s absolutely right. With HD, they actually did a fairly poor job early on. If you went into an electronics store in say, 2000, or 1999 when they were first introduced, they had HD sets but they weren’t hooked up to an HD service. They were hooked up to regular analog television, and people looked at it and they said, “What’s the big deal? This doesn’t look particularly good at all.” And they actually missed the boat. What they really should have done is subsidized them and put them in sports bars. And they did eventually do that, but it wasn’t until around 2004 or 2005, that when you went into an electronics store, it was hooked up to real HD and bars were getting it. And that’s, by the way, when HD started to take off.

Now, with 3D, you have the same issue. Right now, I think they’ve done a really poor job of marketing it. The World Cup, some of that was in 3D. There were some tennis tournaments in 3D. There were very, very few demonstrations of it. It’s been a little bit better in Europe. The U.S. hasn’t really had much at all.

The issue is, people have to see 3D if they’re going to eventually buy it. So you’ve got to have some content, and you’ve got to have a place where you can see it. Now, some electronics stores are exhibiting it, but not all of them, and certainly not enough. The obvious place to do it would once again be sports bars. In a sports bar, let’s say it’s a big football game, you could have one set that is [showing] the game in 3D, and then two or three other sets with the game in 2D. So everybody can see it, and those who buy or rent the glasses [from the bar], they can experience [3D].

There was an interesting thing I saw, a photograph of what Sony is doing in Japan. In Tokyo, on sidewalks, they have a big panel, and in the panel there are cutouts. The glasses are built into the cutout. So you can walk up, see a sample of 3D, and not walk away with the glasses. And it doesn’t have to be manned or anything like that.

One way or the other, they’ve got to deal with that issue of demoing it for the public. And they have not done a good job so far.

If I were betting, I would bet that 3D TV with glasses will be a failure. But what will happen is, as before, it will sort of fade. And then, when auto-stereoscopic 3D without the glasses comes in in five or six years, by that point there will be enough content that will have been produced, the problem of the glasses will have gone away, and I think at that point it will find a market.

Flightpath: What about 3D making its way over to computing? YouTube just launched its 3D channel. Do you see that as being anything more than a gimmick or a way to get in the 3D game, or will it play a role in the future of experiencing content on the computer?

John Carey: I think, in the computer world, the biggest early opportunity is videogames. There are some videogames in 3D, and if you think about the type of person who might wear glasses for three or four hours, and would put up with all kinds of things in order to have the most super experience, it would be the gamer. So that’s certainly where I would start.

The YouTube 3D [channel], at the moment, I’m not going to say [it’s a] gimmick. It’s a novelty. They have to get content. They’re trying to encourage people to shoot 3D and put it on the YouTube channel. It will be a novelty. What will be interesting is, will people, especially the amateurs, come up with something that’s totally new? In my mind, when I hear about something like that, I don’t say yes, I don’t say no. I say, “Let me take a look at it. Let’s see where it goes.”

Interview: Tony Scalzo of Fastball

Tony Scalzo of Fastball

Fastball and its co-lead singer, Tony Scalzo, first found success with the band’s 1998 hits “The Way” and “Out Of My Head,” which became radio and MTV staples just prior to the rise of Napster and the Internet’s leveling of the music business. But even as the industry changed, Fastball continued to create its own brand of tight, catchy and smart records, quietly resulting in a stellar catalog. Throughout, Scalzo’s blend of Paul McCartney-esque melodicism and craftsmanship with Elvis Costello-style wordplay has filled Fastball’s albums – including the group’s latest, 2009’s excellent Little White Lies – with numerous pop gems. Now, Scalzo is planning his first solo album and has turned to Kickstarter for help in making it happen. At Kickstarter, fans pledge at different levels to assist in funding creative projects of all kinds, from albums to movies, in exchange for certain rewards. The rub: if the monetary goal is not met by a certain deadline, the artist gets nothing.

We recently spoke with Scalzo about why he’s using Kickstarter to get his solo project off the ground, his views on the Internet and its role in music today, and what it’s like to play a concert in someone’s home.

Flightpath: Fastball’s last album, Little White Lies, came out in 2009. What made you decide that now was the right time for a solo album, and what led you to Kickstarter?

Tony Scalzo: Well, [Little White Lies] was over two years ago. We went on tour with that record, probably put about 45,000 miles on the road. Three or four months of touring, opening up for Sugar Ray for a month. We were totally active. We did lots of radio stuff. A lot of that touring though, we really didn’t make a lot of money, because we were piggybacking with Sugar Ray. It was supposed to be an exposure thing, but unfortunately, the tour didn’t really do us much good.

So we basically struggled through the process of paying for the record we’d made, and our touring [profits] went to paying back the credit card debt we’d incurred recording Little White Lies, which was substantial. And then last year, ironically, having not really put out anything for a year, we played a lot of one-offs all over the country, and we did really well [monetarily]. And we still do that; we’re planning on having a really big summer of weekend shows. It pays the best and we get to stay home for most of the week.

So anyway, I guess about seven months ago, Miles [Zuniga, co-lead singer of Fastball] starting working on his [solo] record. He has lots of songs that he’d been writing over the years. And he got that going, and I watched how well he did on his Kickstarter program to get the money together for his. So you know, it’s a great tool, where you don’t really have to put yourself in debt [to make an album]. The only thing you have to do is honor the rewards that you promise people for donating. Some people see a lot of value in some of those rewards, so they’re willing to throw down and be a part of the actual making of a record. And I think that’s really cool. I don’t know if I’m going to do quite as well as Miles did. I’m kind of behind right now. But I’m happy with the way I’ve gotten tons of support.

Flightpath: How did you come up with the rewards? It seems like you had a list of everything a fan could dream of. It was like, “Autographed CD, check. Unreleased demos, check. Acoustic concert in my home, check.”

Tony Scalzo: Yeah. I went around the whole Kickstarter site to see what other artists were offering and how much they wanted. I just sort of went from there and decided what I didn’t want to do. I didn’t really want to call people and wish their mom a happy birthday, or sing to their mom. [Laughs] That’s cool and all, but it’s not really what I’ve got in mind.

But I have some other cool things, you know, like recording a video of me in my house, singing a song [on request]. I like the [listening] party idea, to get those mid-range pledges all together and have a party. Treat them to some drinks.

Flightpath: You also already have a pledge at the $2,000 level.

Tony Scalzo: That’s true! That was like, the first day, too. So you can imagine, I was like, “Oh, wow, this is going to be no sweat.” It happens to be someone I knew, and someone local, which is awesome.

Flightpath: Have you ever played someone’s house before?

Tony Scalzo: Oh, yeah. It’s usually a pretty special thing. It’s pretty worth it. Miles and I have done a lot of that kind of thing, and actually plan on doing more of it in the future.

Tony Scalzo of Fastball

Flightpath: If this works, do you think you’ll stick with Kickstarter for your next album?

Tony Scalzo: Well, the record, it’s gonna be a long time before this whole thing is complete. I think it’s a little longer than a lot of people might think, too. Miles’ record is still not out, and he got his funding months and months ago. I’m not saying that I haven’t started, ‘cause I have. I’ve done some basic tracks, but it’s gonna be a little while in that studio. Then there’s the manufacturing, and I plan on getting some promotional people together. To really have a campaign, you have to.

Flightpath: That was one thing that struck me in your Kickstarter video. You’re kind of listing all the things that are going into this, and there are some things that I’m guessing you’ve never done before. Stuff like manufacturing the CD, and just being in charge of the whole project in a new kind of way. How do you feel about that?

Tony Scalzo: Well, I must say — this is important, because this is the new world, right? And you know what? Having done really well in the old world [Laughs]…the new world, for musicians and artists having to deal so much with business, it distracts. There is such a thing as separation of left and right brain, and it takes away. I’m not writing [songs] for the last couple of weeks. I’m playing a lot, because I’m doing gigs, but I’m dealing with [trying to finance my album]. I do have those [business] fears, which I think is legit. You end up becoming a record exec instead of a musician.

I’m a musician; I’m a songwriter. That’s really all I’ve ever wanted to do. I play my songs, and that’s really all I care about.

Flightpath: In the Kickstarter video, you talk about how with today’s digital technology, anyone can make records in their basement, or wherever they want, for really cheap, but that you’re used to working in studios to create better sounding recordings. And you can hear it on the Fastball records. With tracks like “Wind Me Up,” there are layers of harmonies, guitars and strings.

Tony Scalzo: It’s true, man. I have to be honest. If anybody thinks that I can just go and make a record in somebody’s kitchen on substandard mics and all digital, and do the kinds of things [I want], and reach the standards that I have with Fastball, they’re just wrong. There are fans that are going to be short-changed.

Why should the quality of music go down with the technology going up? If I want it lo-fi, I’ll do it. But the stuff I do, I really want all those textures, and I want fine lines. I want those values in there. It’s super important to my fans. I know that. That’s why they like Fastball.

Flightpath: Can you talk a little bit about how you’re approaching the writing and the creation of the album? It’s the first time you’re really doing it on your own.

Tony Scalzo: Yeah, and at the same time, I have a team of a few people, including the guys in my [solo] band, that I’m working with. We work out a lot of the songs in rehearsals and at shows. These new songs can be heard live. I do play them live. They’re not recorded yet; they’re only in demo form. One of the rewards, which I think is cool, like we talked about, is the demos of all these songs. You get to hear the evolution of the album.

So I work all that out with the band, but I call the shots, as far as the final word. But it’s great to bounce ideas off people. I can’t just run in and play all the instruments. I’m gonna get a lot of ideas from the musicians that are gonna play on it. There’s already a couple of tracks that are underway. We’ve got drums, bass, acoustic guitar and scratch vocals on three songs. So, we build on those, which are gonna be the nucleus of the record.

Most of the songs are written, but not all the songs are completed. I think that I’m gonna be running around last minute, writing lines and filling in things. That’s the way I’ve always done stuff, and that’s the way Miles has always done stuff. We both get to an impasse and say, “Okay, I’ll see you in about 10 minutes,” and run off somewhere and try and figure it out. And one of us comes in and makes it work. So, I’m looking forward to that stuff. That’s the real energy of creation. That’s when it really feels like you’re doing something.

Stephen Belans is producing it. I’m actually gonna be using Joe Blaney [to] mix it. He’s done Keith Richards’ solo records, he did Combat Rock by the Clash. He’s just an awesome guy and I’ve been wanting to work with him forever. I’ve got George Reiff playing bass on a couple of tracks. He plays with Jakob Dylan.

Flightpath: Will Miles play on it?

Tony Scalzo: Actually, a couple of the songs are collaborations with Miles. Some of them are Fastball songs that never made the grade or whatever. I’m putting a couple of those in there. Some of them are just from these last few months of writing.

A lot of it’s gonna be along the same lines of what people expect from me. Hooky melodies. I don’t really like to go off into Radiohead land. I think there’s too many bands doing that anyway, and I like to hear a tune.

There’s a band called The Belle Brigade, and they’re incredible. They sound like Simon & Garfunkel meets Fleetwood Mac, circa ’75. I’m going to be using their record as a textual template. You sort of bring records to the studio, and you A/B them with what you’re doing. “Does it come close to this? Are we getting in that zone?” In Fastball sessions, we’ve always tried to make things sound like the records we love.

Flightpath: Finally, as a musician, how do you feel about the Internet? On one hand, it’s kind of responsible for the destruction of the industry with file sharing, yet on the other hand, it’s given artists new ways to promote their music or even with Kickstarter, to fund it.

Tony Scalzo: I think the Internet is awesome, and I think we’re just trying to figure out how to optimize it. I get a lot of new music off the Internet, off of things like Facebook, especially. Just that one little vein of social networking really provides the bulk of my informational intake. I find out about new bands, I find out about local stuff. Also Twitter, you can put up links that get out to a lot more people a lot faster.

With Kickstarter, so many people are throwing down and showing support. They can also help by just sharing the link. So that’s awesome. I think there are ways to really optimize with Kickstarter.

You can view all pledge rewards and donate to Tony Scalzo’s album at his Kickstarter page. For the latest on Fastball, visit their official site.

Twitter and Social Media Create Community Around Death of Osama bin Laden

osama bin laden facebook twitter

Much has already been written about the death of Osama bin Laden and how the news and discussion of it spread quickly over the Internet. “Twitter traffic spiked to more than 4,000 tweets per second at the beginning and end of President Obama’s speech…announcing the death of Osama Bin Laden,” said Twitter’s Matt Graves. While this is not as high a rate as the Tweets surrounding the Japanese New Year, it is still mind-boggling, considering the time slot (late Sunday evening is not high trafficked real estate for any form of media). But what does all this really mean? Why was the first thought for so many people – myself included – to head to Twitter and Facebook?

At their core, Twitter and Facebook meet a need that most successful brands and products have mastered the art of selling: they give people a place to belong. While everyone is different, we are social creatures by nature. For sports fans, a favorite team is more than just something to read about or watch on television; it becomes something you identify with, and by extension, makes you feel apart of something. People become brand loyalists to things as varied as PlayStation, Original Penguin or Android not just because they like the quality of the product, but also because they gain entrance into a community. With Twitter and Facebook, the experience is pure community in the form of digital socializing. This is not a groundbreaking notion, of course, but understanding what makes them resonate with people offers clues as to why they were destinations when the news broke.

Many sites are saying that the “news” of bin Laden’s death spread on Facebook and Twitter, but that’s misleading. People went to Twitter and Facebook to feel involved and connected to those around them when it mattered most; to see others’ comments, jokes, and opinions, and to share their own. Maybe it’s semantic, but to say that Facebook and Twitter were just places where “news spread” undervalues what Facebook and Twitter bring to the social landscape.

Royal Wedding 2011: Our Favorite Tweets

Today, William and Kate were not the only ones to mark a new beginning. It was truly the coming out party – the “marriage” between traditional media and social media on a world stage, and the results were smashingly brilliant. (Sorry for all the British/marriage puns. We can’t help ourselves.)

The social event of the century was easily the biggest social media event in history, and Twitter in particular became the go-to destination for discussion, jokes, and opinions. Here are some of our favorites, illustrating how Twitter is home to all different tones and modes of thought, all equally valid, informative and entertaining:

Royal Wedding 2011 tweets

What were your favorite Tweets? What did you think of the ceremony? Amazing and romantic, or over-hyped and boring? Tell us!

Rebecca Black and the Cyberbullying She Didn’t Deserve


I stumbled upon the now infamous video for Rebecca Black’s “Friday” via a Tweet from MST3K’s Mike Nelson, which appears to have been the starting point for the video going viral. Like most people, I didn’t like it. The lyrics are beyond simple, and the use of auto-tune (which is something I’ve never liked, and is probably a true dividing line between generations) was mind-numbing. The song is almost a parody of modern pop, as Rolling Stone said, which is probably why it’s gained such traction. And I won’t lie; of course I laughed at the video as I watched it.

But that’s where it ended for me. I really had no idea when this was made, where it was made, and whether or not it was an actual hit song. I knew, however, that it wasn’t made for me. It’s a song by a 13-year-old girl – reason enough to back off – that I can see younger kids liking a lot. Anyway, the video spread fast all over the Internet, and I was really shocked at how dark the sentiment became not for the song, but for Rebecca Black, the person. In a time where bullying and cyberbullying (something those of us who graduated high school before the 00s thankfully never had to deal with) are getting real notice, from schools to the White House, the volcano of cruel remarks and vitriol hurled at her is downright sad.

If anyone releases music or art, it’s open to criticism. That’s fair. Parodies are fair. But take a look at the YouTube comments, or listen to Rebecca herself recount some of the messages she received during her Good Morning America interview. “Cut yourself,” “Get an eating disorder,” etc. Unequivocally, a line has been crossed, and it’s disturbing. This is people from all over the world, of all ages, joining the pile-on; lots of “Internet tough guys” – people who would never have the guts to say the things they say online to a person’s actual face – hiding behind a screename, who for whatever reason, feel empowered by belittling someone anonymously. I’m not saying people shouldn’t have fun with the video or song. But there’s a fine line between funny and mean, and the mean never get it. Conan O’Brien’s “Thursday” parody? Funny. Fake Charlie Sheen’s tweet to Rebecca Black? Mean.

And what’s particularly gross about this? She’s just a kid. Is there that much to be gained by making fun of a 13-year-old? Also, she’s not talentless, but actually seems to be a pretty decent singer. And most importantly, she didn’t write the song; if you want to blame someone, blame those who wrote it for her. Thankfully, she seems to be handling this – the fame, the criticism and the acclaim – just fine. But if we are serious, as a culture, about ending cyberbullying and toning down violent rhetoric, maybe giving Rebecca Black a pass would be a good start.

Going further, the ultimate happy ending to this story would be that maybe, just maybe, we learn not to be so quick to be vicious, mean or snide, but maybe be more thoughtful and supportive. Rebecca Black is someone who seems like a genuinely good person – she’s donating all her profits from this to Japan, something she really does not have to do – and is not deserving at all of the poison verbal arrows slung her way. There will be others like her in the future, and hopefully, we will have learned a more human way to react.

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.

Would Don Draper Go Mad For iAds?

Don Draper meets the iPad and iAd

Fooling around with the Tron: Legacy iAd – the first iAd for Apple’s iPad – I wondered what Don Draper would make of the new advertising format. (Not a curmudgeonly 90-year-old Don Draper of today, who’d probably be more concerned with those loud teens down the block than the latest whatsit. I mean an in-his-prime, boozing, smoking and Kodak Carousel-branding Don Draper.)

“Advertising is based on one thing,” Draper said in Mad Men’s first season.  “Happiness. And you know what happiness is? Happiness is the smell of a new car. It’s freedom from fear. It’s a billboard on the side of the road that screams reassurance that whatever you are doing is okay. You are okay.” The role of advertising in our lives and what it strives to achieve has changed since Draper’s time. The core is perhaps the same – to reach someone in a manner that speaks to them – but the idea of ads telling you you’re “okay” has evolved, as has the meaning of “happiness,” via advertising. Today, successful ads achieve a broader emotional engagement in a way that excites people honestly and intellectually. More than something material, they give you something worthwhile. So what does it mean for people seeing advertisements that they can reach out and physically manipulate, touch and interact with?

iAds are the posterchild of immersive HTML5 ads – the advertising format on all touch screen mobile devices – and this new format can revolutionize advertising altogether. iAds made their debut last year on the iPad’s smaller cousins, the iPhone and iPod Touch, with several top-shelf brands (including Nissan,, and Campbell) making creative entries. They first appear as banners in iApps, can be clicked and activated, and then exited at any time. The hook (and innovation) is that that they’re not passive ads; users interact with them physically via the touch screen and engage with them on their own terms.

iAds and HTML5 ads can make the user a part of the advertisement like never before, and that is genuinely exciting in a, “Let’s create something no one has ever seen before and make a real connection” way. As a gamer, I think of how Nintendo’s seemingly simple innovation of user interaction changed how we relate to video games forever, stirring the imagination in new ways. I watched my friend’s 85-year-old grandfather play Wii Bowling, probably the first time he’d “bowled” in 30 years, invigorated with each strike; I smiled as my uncle played Wii Baseball, swinging the remote like he was back in Brooklyn playing stickball. They were honest moments of joy.

iAds and HTML5 ads can have the same impact on how we experience advertisements. The Tron iAd lets you spin, with a flick of the wrist, a Tron-inspired wheel that takes you to movie trailers, a map with theaters near you playing the movie (the most usable, personalized feature), soundtrack samples and more. Nissan’s iAd for the Leaf, a 100% electric car, makes use of all of the iPhone’s functionality – tapping, sliding, tilting, and even shaking – to give users a unique, in-depth experience. You can rotate the car; see inside it; watch a high-quality video ad; reserve one or compare it, dollar-by-dollar and mile-by-mile, to other cars. It’s almost an app in disguise, and it’s a delight.

So what would everyone’s favorite ad exec think of iAds? Can they tell you you’re okay and bring about happiness by today’s standards? I think Don would argue that they have more potential to accomplish this than maybe any other ad format that came before. The Nissan iAd, through the experience of exploring the car and the message of just how different and innovative the Leaf is, does tell you you’re okay. It tells you you’re taking a step into something important, social and worthwhile. That is happiness. Imagine what Draper could have done with this technology while working on the Kodak Carousel? Maybe he’d give users the chance to spin it themselves, upload their own photos instantly, and share them – and the stories behind them – with friends.

iAds and HTML5 ads represent change. “And let’s also say that change is neither good nor bad,” Draper said in the show’s third season, “it simply is. It can be greeted with terror or joy, a tantrum that says, ‘I want it the way it was,’ or a dance that says, ‘Look, something new!’” My guess is, he’d be excited by the “something new” that iAds bring: the chance to connect with people on even deeper levels than ever before.

‘Tis the Season for Disruptive Marketing

“Gobble Up Savings” changed to “Shop Holiday Sales” in the space of one small and magical second this year—sometime around midnight November 25, 2010. Marketing and advertising elves worked hard to deliver a double-whammy of creative collateral and even harder to seamlessly switch them out. But that might not be what really matters. In this deluge of holiday shopping campaigns, gracefully fitting into each shift and swap of the season isn’t what’s getting noticed. And that’s why this year, I’m making every effort to be truly and deeply disruptive.

People are not only creatures of habit; they are also creatures of expectation. And right now, everyone is expecting the usual seasonal suspects—snowflakes, reindeer, giving, joy, etc. So why not add a little bit of creative disruption to the secret holiday sauce? Spicing up seasonal themes with disruptive word changes, plays, and puns stands out and grabs consumers’ attentions across many different mediums. It’s working, too, especially for these leading brands who have long been wise to this trend:

  • The Gap – They might have totally tanked on that whole logo thing, but they’re back and on point with, “what do you want this holiday?
  • Crate & Barrel – Late gifts spoil the mood, and with a clever little, “in the St. Nick of time,” you trust yours will get there promptly and possibly with reindeer in tow.
  • The North Face – This high-performance outdoor sports’ label is hard at work to “Spread the Holiday Gear” to all your family, friends, and neighbors.
  • Banana Republic – With all life’s modern distractions, make sure you take time to “LOVE the PRESENT” this year.
  • Kenneth Cole – The reigning king of disruptive messaging serves up a provocative warning to “Be Careful What You Wish For.

Messing with words has a unique way of changing the context and expectation of what is being communicated. It’s in that tiny flicker of disruption where the chance of real, sticky communication exists. In the past few years, this disruptive style of marketing has broken new ground by using texting language as a form of commercial speak. Chase led the pack on this with their “TXT MSGS MAKE BNKG EZ” campaign, which launched in the distant past of 2007. This TXT SPK naturally resonated with the younger and young-at-heart demographics, because it was attitudinally way cooler, and it’s been going strong ever since. Some of my other non-holiday and non-txt favorites include, Koolaid’s “Delivering more smiles per gallon” and Lifetime’s “The Fairy JobMother.” Both have a knack at driving straight through to real-life emotional value, which clearly speaks to everyone. The hippest, most disruptive part of all is that this kind of breakthrough doesn’t involve million dollar commercial shoots, just some old-fashioned wordsmithing.

Disruptive marketing is key in our 140-character worldview, and word play is the quickest and most effective way to disrupt. Consumers are on marcom overload, sifting through a flotsam of creative messaging, monotonously and robotically, until…something breaks through. Changing common idiomatic phrases and expressions into something playful and unexpected gives consumers a reason to stop and ponder. This really registers in the mind, as one mulls over the disruption, tinkering with it until it feels smooth and familiar or interjecting other words for greater effect. Disruptive messaging promotes a share of voice while commanding attention. It naturally stands out and means you, as a brand, can do a whole lot less yelling.

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!