Friday, April 30, 2010

Culture & the Ad :: Wind Mobile, Brand Perceptions, & Cultural Stereotypes

Notes from north of 49ºN

A longer version of this was posted on ThickCulture

The above Wind Mobile commercial is for a Canadian cellphone carrier, competing with the big three, Bell, Rogers, and Telus. The humour is derived from characterizing the major wireless carriers as entities that turn a nominal charge into a much larger one with extra fees and charges. Another facet is the use of a South Asian hot dog vendor to make the point, using an accent and cultural stereotypes familiar in North America. The South Asian-Canadian population was 4% of the population in 2006, categorized as visible minorities., i.e., visibly not one of the majority race in a population.

Is this Wind commercial offensive?

This reminds me of a 2007 Guardian UK piece by Manish Vij criticizing the use of The Simpson's character of Apu Nahasapeemapetilon by 7-11 as part of a tie-in promotion.
"Apu is quite a unique character on The Simpsons. Unlike the show's parodies of policemen and Irish-Americans, he's the only character to mock a small American minority relatively unknown in the mainstream, and he's by far the most visible immigrant. For desis (South Asians) growing up in America, just one eighth as concentrated and visible as in the UK, Apu shadowed us at every turn. Until the rise of American Idol chanteur Sanjaya Malakar, Apu was the most widely-known Indian after Mahatma Gandhi. And he has that fake Peter Sellers simulacrum of an Indian accent: Apu's voice Hank Azaria, a Greek-American, is a brown man doing a white man doing a brown man.

To be sure, Apu has many redeeming qualities: a loving wife, passive-aggressive cunning, and a Ph.D. Culture-vulture Simpsons fans have felled entire forests in arguing that he's a parody of a stereotype, rather than the stereotype itself. But the plain fact is that most viewers are laughing at Apu, not with him. They're enjoying the simple pleasures of a funny, singsong brown man with a slippery grasp of English."
Some commenters on the Guardian's site and elsewhere this was discussed were quick to say the reaction is overly-PC and that The Simpsons have poked fun of the Scots with Groundskeeper Willie.

Brand managers try to create communities around brands and the use of images and characters often try to be "on code" and resonate with the target audience. The executions are often "sanitized", but where is the line drawn? Is the fact of the matter that no matter how much you try, Apu and the cultural stereotypes that character represents still have the baggage akin to a lawn jockey. The stereotypes have the power to create differences in "cultural power", which the dominant group and/or economic class wield, whether they exercise it or not.

So, in Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle {2004}, despite Kumar being an upper-middle class medical school candidate who speaks perfect English without an accent, local thugs use cultural power to harass him with the taunt,"thank you, come again." Later in the film, Kumar used the taunt ironically right back at his harassers::

The lines of cultural power and privilege can get blurry. Media and advertising infuse meaning and shape attitudes, but what's a marketer/advertiser to do? The use of stereotypes is meant to increase the efficacy of the communication, i.e., ideally the content resonates more with the audience. On the other hand, should marketers and advertisers steer clear of using stereotypes in a non-ironic way, in order to protect the brand from being labelled as insensitive?

In my opinion, the execution of the ad is risky. Yes, it serves to convey its message and will be deemed by many to be humourous. The portrayal of the South Asian hot dog vendor isn't likely to be deemed as all that offensive by many, as it cues cultural stereotypes of new Canadian South Asians, but not in an overtly mean-spirited way. The narrative is matter-of-fact. Nevertheless, those without cultural power may be put off by the ad. If the ad execution used the stereotypes ironically and South asians felt they were "in" on the humour, everything would be cool. THAT is the challenge of good copywriting.

Some might say that those who take offense need to "get over it," but before someone goes on the record as saying that, perhaps they should assess how much cultural power they have.

Twitterversion:: Wind Mobile hotdog cart ad in Canada uses stereotypes to make a humourous pt. Is it offensive or benign? #ThickCulture @Prof_K

Song:: M.I.A. -'World Town'

Friday Night Videos-Early Edition :: Kirsty MacColl

Kirsty MacColl makes it on this blog quite a bit. Here's Kirsty doing a live cover of the Kinks' "Days" from 1989, which was on the album 'Kite'::

Here's the music video::

"Innocence" was also on 'Kite', with Kirsty's characteristically sharp lyrics {click on image twice to play}::

I remember when "Walking Down Madison" came out in 1991 and I listened to it on a roadtrip to the Pacific Northwest. The track was on 'Electric Landlady', which was some wordplay on Hendrix's 'Electric Ladyland'::

and another Top of the Pops performance::

Going back a ways, this is "A New England" from way back in 1984. It was written by Billy Bragg::

Here's Kate Nash {this week's newmusicmonday, #40} and Billy Bragg doing a "Foundations"/"A New England" medley::

Twitterversion:: An early edition of #FridayNightVideos featuring Kirsty MacColl's œuvre, circa 1984-1991. #Web2_0WaybackMachine @Prof_K

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Soy Milt?

This one was just on The Daily Show's "moment of zen" from WNYW-Fox NYC::

Oh, I'm sure the anchor isn't the first and won't be the last to think this. Of course the cast of NBC's The Office would say:: 

That's what she said sound bite

Twittervesion:: #TheDailyShow's moment of zen for 29 jism. #thatswhatshesaid #rhizomicon @Prof_K

Song:: Monty Python-'Every Sperm Is Sacred'

YYZ to SFO :: Increased Competition from Virgin America

I've flown many a time from California {LAX or SFO} to Pearson over the years. While I prefer non-stops, my favourite flight was going from LA up to Calgary and across to Toronto on WestJet. I just saw a promoted Tweet {if you search for Toronto} announcing Virgin America starting service on 23 June between LAX & SFO to YYZ, including an early morning non-stop. The only other airline that offers non-stops is Air Canada, which codeshares flights with United.  Actually, this article reminded me that United and American fly non-stops from Toronto to Los Angeles and United flies non-stops to San Francisco, in addition to Air Canada, respectively.

The increased competition should reduce fares and I'm quite curious what the service is like on Virgin America. I expect so little from Air Canada that I've been pleasantly surprised by them over the years. The number of flights that Air Canada has between California and Toronto is a grudging bonus, but if I had my druthers I'd fly WestJet.  The best was when WestJet flew nonstops from LAX to YYZ.

Currently, it looks like all carriers have similar pricing for early summer at around the $515-533 range "out the door" {including fees & taxes}. Virgin America will also be offering WiFi for about $13 for the duration of the flight.

Twitterversion:: @VirginAmerica offering new service on 23June b/t SFO&LAX to YYZ #Toronto, giving Air Canada stiff competition. @Prof_K

Music & the Ad :: Emilie Mover & McDonald's Minis

image:: Emilie Mover, from

Torontonian Emilie Mover {MySpace} has been an indie darling of sorts, with two songs on Gray's Anatomy {"Brand New" & "Ordinary Day"}, a Sears commercial, a Telus Ad with the meerkats with "That Song", and the following McDonald's McMinis ad with "Made for Each Other"::

Here's a Telus "Domino" ad from 2008 with "That Song"::

and another with "No Hill Too High"::

Here's the Sears ad from 2009 with "Brand New"::

Here's a non-commercial Emilie video for "No Words" with animation does by  Alex Produkt and Kathleen Weldon::

Emilie's voice and music has a very likeable sound with jazzy, folksy overtones. She has three CDs, including a new release, on CDBaby {also iTunes} and two upcoming tour dates in Toronto in May at Holy Oak {out by Bloor/Landsdowne}.

Twitterverion:: #Music_and_TheAd blog post featuring @emiliemover from #Toronto. Videos & links. @Prof_K

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Hadouken!'s "M.A.D." :: When Cosplay Attacks!

Saw this on AUX here in Toronto. It's Hadouken!, a UK new rave band that has an infectious sound and has been criticized for "grime"-influenced videos with violent content. I'm sure some will say the above video for "M.A.D." is when cosplay goes dark, but then again I seem to recall Tom & Jerry not being far off this mark.
"pop goes the plot and it's pandemonium/like I poisoned your sushi with plutonium/radiate like enriched uranium/we drop beats that'll crack your cranium"

Twitterversion:: Hadouken!'s 2009 video for "M.A.D" on @auxtv w/ "grime" cosplay vignette. @Prof_K

Music & the Ad:: Dee Edwards & Adidas

image:: Dee Edwards single for "Why Can't There be Love", from In Dangerous Rhythm

This Dee Edwards classic of "Why Can't There Be Love" {1972} is Detroit 70s soul that would feel right at home in a Tarantino flick. The Adidas ad remix by Pilooski is being used for their "Celebrating Originality on the Streets" campaign. Sadly, dee passed away in 2006 from a heart attack at age 60.

The 15" spot::

The 30" spot::

The 60" spot::

#Music_and_TheAd features 70s Detroit soul sounds Dee Edwards w/ Pilooski remix of "Why Can't There Be Love" for Adidas.  @Prof_K

Monday, April 26, 2010

Newmusicmonday #40 :: Kate Nash

image:: Kate Nash, from MySpace

This 40th. instalment features UK artist Kate Nash {MySpace}. She was playing tonight here in Toronto at the Mod Club, but I had too much going on, which is a recurring theme. I've been seeing ads for her new album on AUX with snippets of her "Do Wah Doo" video::

Many might recall her #2 UK hit, "Foundations" from 2007::

Her 2007 album "Made of Bricks" went to #1 and also went platinum. Success and fame made things a bit rough for her, but it looks like she's managing to avoid being a star in trainwreck theatre. Her songs are indie pop, but lyrically her songs are interesting and complex. Not surprisingly, it looks like she's the darling of indie hipster crowds, as she's selling out shows at The Bowery and in Williamsburg on her latest tour. Upcoming US dates include Boston {sold out}, NYC x2 {sold out}, Chicago, Minneapolis, Seattle, SF, & LA, before she heads off to Europe. Toronto was her only Canadian date on this tour. 

Her new album, "My Best Friend Is You" is out, along with the single, "Do Wah Doo".

Twitterversion:: @kate_nashmusic is this week's #newmusicmonday. New album out & on tour in US & EUR. Video clips. @Prof_K

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Second UK Debates :: LibDems Making Hung Parliament Likely

Crossposted on ThickCulture

Earlier in the month, I blogged about the forthcoming UK elections and on Rhizomicon, I blogged about the first-ever debate of the party leaders. In the first debate, the leader of the third-party challenging Liberal Democrats, Nick Clegg, made a strong showing. The above video is about the second debate held in Bristol on foreign affairs. Both Labour {Gordon Brown} and the Conservatives {Nick Cameron} made a point of attacking Clegg, in a bid to undermine support for the Liberal Democrats and increase the chance of obtaining a majority by winning swing ridings {districts}. Clegg seemed to hold his own. The recent polls are such that an outright majority is unlikely, unless the LibDems collapse between now and 5 May. This means that a hung Parliament is likely. The last debate will be on 29 April in the Midlands on economic policy. Get your popcorn ready. Canadians can watch on cable or online at CPAC. The other debates are archived on the link. Post a comment if you can watch them in the US or wherever you may be outside of Canada.

Twitterversion:: Second UK Debate has LibDem Nick Clegg hanging tough against Labour & Tories. Hung Parliament increasingly likely. #ThickCulture @Prof_K

Song:: The Jam-''A' Bomb in Wardour Street'

Canadian Doldrums

Crossposted on ThickCulture

Notes from North of 49ºN

In the wake of the bizarre Helena Guergis scandal centred around Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper and a MP from Ontario who he kicked out of caucus, the Conservatives held their ground and the Liberals lost a few points. Additionally, EKOS reported that this was the 16th. consecutive poll where no party received more than 33%. The direction of the government poll has 46.6% saying the government is going in the wrong direction and 41.4% saying the government is going in the right direction, with 12% saying don't know/no response.

The gap in favour of the Liberals in bellwether Ontario is well within the margin of error with the Conservatives polling at 33.1% and the Liberals at 34.6% +/- 4%.

Disillusionment anyone?

One possibly interesting pattern is the stability of support for the minor parties {NDP, Greens, and Bloc} since last October.

Twitterversion:: Post-Guergismania EKOS poll shows Liberals slipping. NDP, Greens, & Bloc with fairly steady %s since Oct'09 #ThickCulture @Prof_K

Song:: Portishead-'Numb'

Bizarro Tablet Universe

image:: mockup of Chrome-based Tablet,

According to the NYTimes, Google is working on a tablet computer that will use their Android operating system. in fact, there are 9 possible future tablet options that may give the iPad a run for the money.  This will heat up the competition for Apple's iPad, which may put Apple in a bind, given that iPad margins are estimated to slimmer, due to higher up-front manufacturing and distribution costs. 

The iPad platform becomes more attractive for content producers with more users and users receive more value from iPads with more {cheap and free} content and apps. Competition from tablets throws a monkey wrench into diffusion. Google's mobile OS, Android, will be available on a tablet computer. 

What is Google working on? Here's a video demo of their touchscreen technology::

Consumers may be looking for a break from Apple, particularly if the iPad value proposition isn't evident for those who aren't fanbois. The critical issue will be the availability of content. The openness of Android may mean that the user experience may suffer a bit, but innovative apps that make the most out of mobile and the mobile web may be more prevalent and a richer ecosystem with healthy competition and consumer choice. 

My thoughts are that more competition is a good thing. Google, using Android, could offer up the Anti-iPhone/iPad tablet with the following distinctions::
  1. Android embraces cloud computing & the Google's web applications; Apple embraces synching
  2. Android is an open environment; Apple's is closed {third-party downloads & more apps. over time not controlled by a gatekeeper}
  3. Android will allow for greater user customization; Apple will limit customization and the user experience
This is all speculation, but an open Android system could be the perfect foil for the iPad and position Google or a partner to make a play for the mass market. This won't kill the iPad, but offer an alternative and a bit of healthy competition to keep everyone innovating.

Twitterversion:: Google Android on tablets could offer up the anti-iPad. Open, cloud-ready, & w/more customization. Mass appeal? @Prof_K

Song:: Orchestral Manœuvres in the Dark-'Of all the Things We've Made'

Friday, April 23, 2010

AT&T Hates Rogers :: More #ATTFail

Update {4 May 2010, 7:13 EDT}:: A subsequent test with a US proxy IP shows this it NOT an ATT-Rogers issue.

I have been testing the parameters of e-mailing via MMS and the iPhone 3G on AT&T. I've been sending e-mails to multiple destinations from Rogers to AT&T and all of a sudden, fail, regardless of the webhost, while using POP or IMAP. My Rogers IP isn't loved. 

Trying to get to the bottom of this. AT&T has been friendly, but ultimately unhelpful thus far. More on this as it develops.

Twitterversion:: Testing parameters of MMS on iPhone for a project, but all of a sudden, Rogers IP has been blocked. @Prof_K

Song:: Figurine-'An Electronic Address'

Friday Night Videos & The Web 2.0 Wayback Machine :: The Darling Buds

Sure it's UK pop fluff from the late 80s/early 90s, but here are The Darling Buds on ToTP doing "Hit the Ground" {circa 1988}::

and the music video::

Here's a live clip of "The Other Night" from 1988::

and a music video for "Burst" {1990}::

and "You've Got to Choose" {1989}::

By the time 1992 rolled around, the "blonde" movement {Darling Buds, Transvision Vamp, Primitives} was all but done and the band's 'Erotica' had drifted into a mellow pop with mainstream guitarwork and a radio-friendly sound, but mainstream success eluded them. "Long Day in the Universe" {1992}, from 'Erotica', was used on the So I Married an Axe Murderer {1993} soundtrack.

There was also a TV show on ITV called "The Darling Buds of May", which ran from 1991-1993. The show was based on novels by H. E. Bates and the band's name was an allusion to them. 

Twitterversion:: #FridayNightVideos & #Web2_0WaybackMachine The Darling Buds. Video clips from late 80s-early 90s. @Prof_K

Privacy, CCTV, & the Lash

While being "watched" or perceptions thereof can cause some to act in a normative fashion, à la the panopticon, I'm not convinced the threat of surveillance will result in a significant reduction in crime, which is being mulled over in the UK. I'm also wary of how private video is used in criminal cases, in terms of how it is presented/explained as evidence and who is verifying that it's undoctored. The interpretation of videos fall into the realm of the "management" of the spectacle through the synopticon, the many watching the few. We the masses get seduced by watching the dramaturgy of the images of the panopticon, actively seeking the next epic fail. This highlights the tensions between the power of those with the cameras, those controlling how images are interpreted, and those doing the interpreting.

I've blogged about the Michael Bryant-Darcy Sheppard incident, but I must admit that I cannot tell what's going on in the video::


CCTV may be increasingly ubiquitous & great for LOLs & ROTFLMAOs,but is it really a good crime deterrent & evidence tool? Prof_K 

Song:: Hard Fi-'Stars of CCTV'

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Lulz Were Not Had By All! :: Kernell v. Palin

image:: David Kernell, centre-exiting door, AP-Lisa Norman-Hudson

The HuffPo has the details on this story here, but the condensed version is::
  1. David Kernell, son of Democratic Tennessee House Rep., Mike Kernell, decided to try his hand at punking then newly-nominated Sarah Palin in September of 2008
  2. He was able to hack into her Yahoo e-mail by answering some security questions
  3. He changed the password and posted screenshots of his hack to beloved 4chan's /b/
  4. While he was using a proxy IP, slipups were made and he was traced
  5. Indicted, he faces up to 50 years in jail for identity theft, wire fraud, intentionally accessing Palin's e-mail account without authorization and obstructing an FBI investigation.
The trial is in conservative eastern Tennessee and the judge denied a pretrial motion to have prospective jurors answer questions about their attitudes towards Sarah Palin. Kernell is concerned that jurors might be dazzled by tea party star Sarah Palin, who is expected to testify.

Was this a case of a prank or is this guy a serious menace?

The TJX hackers are the real deal with respect to identity theft and fraud. E-mail snooping to ruin someone is more like the Larry Mendte case, who received 3 years probation. I don't know Kernell's intent and I have no idea what he would have done if he had hacked juicier information, but that's immaterial, as it didn't come to pass.

If Kernell gets hard time, which may happen in that jurisdiction, I think there needs to be much more definition of what hacking and cybercrime is and where the lines and gradations are. In terms of sentences, proportionality needs to be factored in, as well. I predict probation.

Twitterversion:: Sarah Palin email hacker case from 2008 on trial. Prank or serious crime worthy of hard time? @Prof_K

Song:: Quincy Jones-'Soul Bossa Nova'

iPhone & Android

I've been in meetings for a social media startup trying to nail down a mobile web strategy for a social media app. I've been watching how Android is catching fire, but I wasn't aware of iPhone stagnation {above}, as per February usage numbers from Admob via arstechnica. iPhone and Android are neck and neck. Globally, a gap persists, but iPhone is stalling at 50%, while Android usage steadily increases::

The combination of iPhone and Android represent 80% and 70% of mobile web OS usage {not hardware units} market share in the US and globally, respectively.

On another note, I saw a demo of a hack that allows the Androis OS to run on a 2G iPhone on Planetbeing's blog::

I'm all about choice and options, so I'm in favour of this. The battle between Google's Android and Apple's iPhone pits an open innovation model versus a closed one, respectively. Apple claims that the closed system allows for an optimized user experience, along with the not so "fringe" benefit of controlling how money is made on the platform.

Our decisions are to currently focus on the iPhone platform for iPhone, iPad, and iTouch, as well as Android. Here's a video for developers on Android 2.0::

Other issues have to do with Flash, or not using it, and HTML5 and Java, which I'll be addressing in later blogs.

Twitterversion:: Stats on market share of mobile web OS & squaring off of Google's Android & Apple's iPhone for dominance, US & globally.  @Prof_K

Song:: David Robert Jones-'Loving the Alien'

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Facebook :: Privacy Will Be the Users' Responsibility...


I've complained {even today} about Facebook's eschewing of an open social graph. I thought it was limiting of the potential of social networking technology. Today, at the F8 Developer's Conference they announced that they are moving towards an open social graph. Here's what Facebook's Open Graph is all about::
"Zuckerberg and Taylor described a concept called 'Open Graph' that will be useful to businesses and services. On Facebook, users are connected to people they know, as well as public figures, services and products they like; Facebook’s new platform will allow websites and apps to share this information with each other.  When you connect to sites like Yelp via your Facebook profile, Yelp will have access to any information you’ve made publicly available about your favorite foods or favorite bands, and will be able to take that into account when giving you information about restaurants or music venues. For example, Yelp could pull information about your favorite music from data that Pandora added to the graph when you favorited a song on its site."
The big user implication is privacy and the big implication for Facebook {and those in its ecosystem} is letting users know what the default settings are, in order to avoid a Google Buzz-like privacy backlash. This is from Mashable::
"Public no longer means 'public on Facebook,' it means 'public in the Facebook ecosystem.' Some companies, like Pandora, are going to go to great lengths to allow users to separate or opt out of linking their Pandora and Facebook accounts together, but users can’t expect all apps and sites to take that approach. My advice to you: Be aware of your privacy settings."
I think this is a necessary step to ensure that the Facebook platform fosters social media innovation. Naturally, users will make mistakes and what was meant to be "private" will be public. Whinging. Pissing and moaning. Rinse. Lather. Repeat.

Twitterversion:: #Facebook moves towards open social graph. Privacy will be users' responsblty. Cue laugh track & personal privacy #fails. @Prof_K

Song:: Steely Dan-'Only a Fool Would Say That'

MySpace Events & Calendar Screenshots :: Social Portal & Possibilities

It looks like MySpace has worked a few kinks out of their new events and calendar functions unveiled last week. Currently, there's not much granularity for Toronto. Events are for all of Ontario, which can be unwieldy at 193 events for 21 April::

It doesn't seem like the listings are being optimized by mining my band "friends" on MySpace Music or providing me with reccos, but I'd imagine that's in the works. TechCrunch says that the future will involve "mobile access, concert notifications and movies and DVD releases and premiers."

Here's how the listings look now::

and the calendar, which can import events from Facebook::

Definitely a step in the right direction. The rise of mobile and the increasing prevalence of the combination of features that help users structure face-to-face interactions will be pressuring Facebook and all social networking sites to innovate. I think one of the downfalls of Facebook is that it doesn't readily foster communities, just cliques and clusters. While a bunch of users can follow a band, a cause, or an organization, the social dynamics of Facebook don't encourage interacting with and friending people outside one's existing social network {social graph}. Facebook really is about setting up extensions of the private sphere in a quasi-public space and fostering more {deeper} interactivity with a smaller number. I think Facebook serves up value for many, but ultimately is limiting possibilities. On the other hand, a social portal can foster interactions along affinities, potentially opening up the social graph to people further outside one's past and present social networks {broadening}.

Twitterversion:: MySpace's events & calendar increase functionality & highlight utility of social portals along the lines of affinities. @Prof_K

Song:: Hawksley Workman-'Jealous of Your Cigarette'

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Buying Local :: It's Not Just About the Carbons

Part of the frustrating thing about social movements is the meaning systems behind them and how these get negotiated in the media. In the minds of many, local is being equated with low-carbon, which gets peoples' hackles up, who advocate the argument that local isn't necessarily light on carbon impact. I was reading an article where a Toronto resident wouldn't buy from the Quinte Organics coöperative {from eastern Ontario}, as it was outside of her local radius. The farmer said he sees the value of Quinte Organics is the freshness and the taste.

The local=low carbon argument sets up detractors that reduce local to that single dimension. Here, a U of T geographer explains how a New Zealand apple may not be all that bad because of transportation efficiencies, but in all honesty, in order to fully assess this, an expensive life cycle analysis {farm supply chain, production, and downchannel logistics} need to be conducted. The problem is that comparisons between regions {e.g., New Zealand clovered sheep pastures versus poorer British pastures  that require the use of feed} don't take into consideration that alternative production practices can change the game.

The local food movement has more meaning to me than just carbon footprints. It's also about factors that affect both consumption and production, within an agroecological context::
  1. Taste. I've blogged about Ontario strawberries in Toronto versus California imports.
  2. Land use. Supporting local agriculture and keeping them viable can be used in concert with land use policies to thwart exurban sprawl.
  3. Shifting diets towards fresh, not processed foods.
  4. Shifting production away from monoculture and towards the benefits of multicropping
This video on the Quinte Organic coöperative explains their distribution system and the benefits of reducing the gap between food production and consumption at farmers' markets::

Twitterversion:: Localvore movement is often reduced to arguments about carbons {CO2}, but meaning has more nuanced agroecological sig. @Prof_K

Song::  Shonen Knife-'Fruits and Vegetables'