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It’s not digital, stupid. It’s the future

A young colleague recently asked me,”Why do you define yourself as a digital marketer? I don’t categorize marketing into digital and non-digital.” It got me thinking.

She has a point. Millennial talent such as hers entering the market does not and will not differentiate or compartmentalize marketing the way we do. Digital, however we define it, has revolutionized both marketing communications and business. Disciplines are bleeding into each other. Design agencies are creating business models. PR agencies are managing social. Social agencies are working on defining brand. Content companies are making ads. It’s confusing, exhausting and exhilarating.

However, even as these disciplines bleed into one another, there will be something new on the horizon, a path unexplored, uncharted – the new “digital.” So I suppose it is not about digital as it exists right now, it is about digital as it will exist, or simply put, it is about the future. Our skill-sets have primed us to identify and work with stuff that’s on the fringes. Stuff that doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense even to us right now. 

As this discourse has evolved, so has my interpretation of what it means to be a digital strategist. I wanted to share some recent thinking by others around the future because this is the kind of stimulus that should inform our thinking, evolve our profession and continue to guarantee us a seat at the table with the planners, consultants and magicians. I’ll provide the links, you connect the dots.

Two new appointments at Silicon Valley’s top Venture funds offer signs to the next dialogue in technology 
John Meada leaves RISD for Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers

Balaji Sreenivasan joins Andreessen Horowitz as General Partner

As the venture firm’s first design partner, Maeda’s remit will be to infuse a design-led DNA into portfolio companies. At Andressen Horowitz, 33 year old entrepreneur, academic and youngest Partner at the firm, Balaji will be focusing on decoding how software will reorganize and revolutionize complex, regulated spaces such as mobile money, healthcare etc. It will be interesting to see how this influences the Valley and also the investments coming out of these firms.

Software. and Soft Powers: two concepts that are gaining more momentum and relevance. 
Software is reorganizing the world
Moncole’s 2013 Soft Power Survey 

Fascinating fact: Geodesic distance, a new metric that maps states of mind: ”The separation of our bodies is still best characterized by the geographical distance between points on the surface of the earth, the distance between our minds is increasingly characterized by a completely different metric: the geodesic distance, the number of degrees of separation between two nodes in a social network.”

Vaclav Smil, the man that Bill Gates think you should absolutely be reading, believes owning manufacturing is the way to prosperity for USA. 
“In every society, manufacturing builds the lower middle class. If you give up manufacturing, you end up with haves and have-nots and you get social polarization. The whole middle class sinks.”
A glimpse into the changing family structures and concept in the world’s most powerful country. 
“Families are becoming more socially egalitarian over all, even as economic disparities widen. Families are more ethnically, racially, religiously and stylistically diverse than half a generation ago – than even half a year ago.”  

One man’s attempt to debunk the hype around MOOC’s around a shocking data point: less than 10% of people that sign up for a class actually finish it  
“Not all of those people received a passing grade either, meaning that for every 100 pupils who enrolled in a free course, something like five actually learned the topic. If this was an education revolution, it was a disturbingly uneven one.”

 

Life lessons on the improv stage

I recently changed jobs and I was smart enough to negotiate one week off between the two jobs. (also not smart enough to negotiate more than one week off.) My default relaxation mode is watching mindless television shows and punting around online, in my pajamas, on the bed. This leads to an unstable cycle where I sleep very late and as a result, wake up very late. Plus, multiple episodes of Walking Dead tend to make my mind mush. I was keen on not dealing with a mush brain during this break.  I also wanted to step outside my comfort zone so I signed up for Intensive Improv Classes at Upright Citizens Brigade.

Dictionaries define Improv is the art of improvising. My week long immersion into it has lead me to the conclusion that improv is actually the art of listening.

To be a good improv artist, one needs to be physically and mentally present on that stage. In my class, the best Improv scenes were where the performers listened to each other and built on each other. The scenes where performers had their own jokes or ideas prepared, quickly fell flat because they didn’t tie together with their partner’s improv lines. This is a difficult lesson to internalize without enough practice (and gentle scolding). On stage, the natural human tendency is to say the best lines and do what one can to make oneself look good. But this is counter-intuitive to Improv! Improv is about making the other people on stage look good. Listening to their lines and giving them great ones in return. Providing rich fodder to one another. What’s mind-blowing is that this rule goes beyond the stage and Improv…. doesn’t it. Some of my best scenes throughout the course were where I was playing a supporting role and actively making the others around me look good. Those were also the scenes that elicited the most laughs.

Another thing I took away from my classes is that (surprisingly) Improv is NOT about being funny or telling jokes. Again, this is counter-intuitive to what I assumed would be the crux of Improv. Our instructors repeatedly chided us for not having won the license to be fantastical or imaginative with our audiences unless we have established a base reality. A who, what, where. And even after establishing context, the scenes needed to build in an organic, natural manner within the reality of the world that has been established in the scene. Using jokes to get a laugh out of our audiences was a cop out – one that was very easy to try to fall back on. Interestingly, the rules of journalism (and even strategy!) are the about establishing context.

“Play to the top of your intelligence,” is a phrase I heard constantly during my program. It was easier to try to act dumb to elicit a few laughs on the Improv stage. But that meant, we aren’t being truthful to ourselves or to the stage. Improv performances treat the audience and the performer as intelligent and smart folks. Folks that can smell bullshit. This was the most difficult trick to not succumb to. I won’t be lying if I say that the thought of playing the dumb kid or the stereotypical immigrant  didn’t cross my mind several times during our practice sessions.

My major breakthrough came in class #3. I am a confident person and not afraid of falling flat on my face. But even then, it was difficult to give up all inhibitions and not feel conscious of playing a monkey, a warthog or a 2 year old boy on the stage. Giving up those inhibitions was liberating because it stopped me from taking myself too seriously and allowed me to give my 100% to the stage. Also, I was able to do a better job of listening and reacting to my partner.

These are universal truths though, aren’t they? Listen, be present, be selfish about making others around you look good, play to the top of your intelligence….Kinda cool that I learned these on the stage. Cheaper than traveling around the world in search of exotic stories and adventures to basically learn these same truths. no? (although I will still travel around the world)

Sidenotes:

What was most beautiful about last week for me is that I constantly surprised myself. I’ll be thirty soon and there’s not much I don’t know about myself but it was nice to be surprised by my own abilities and my capacity to still have a sense of wonder about new ideas.

The process of learning in itself is a wondrous thing. I started with learning the foundational building blocks, practiced them, and then began layering them on top of each other to make something. And then I watched some Improv performances and deconstructed them to identify the building blocks they used and how fast and well they used them. This gentle spooling and un-spooling is true of any new skill I’ve attempted to learn in the last few years: fiction writing, swimming, bicycling and now improv. The word that kept coming to mind: layercake.

 

Biggest challenges facing brands?

We are living in a very interesting time, as marketers. Gen Y is making way for Millennial’s to become the number one consumer. Hispanics are no longer a minority. The structure of a family is changing – multi-generational homes, rise of the single parent etc. And we’ve only scraped the tip of the iceberg when it comes to digital behaviors.  If I were a CMO, the question of how to keep my brand relevant across changing demographics, media landscapes, consumer behaviors and cultural makeup of the US would keep me up at nights.

Why does turning thirty carry such weight?

I’ve loved this quote for a long time.

I believe in a set of values I cannot live by. I set high goals for myself, I seek perfection, dream of exotic faraway places. But ultimately, what I long for isn’t far away at all. It’s in my own backyard. Imperfection charms me, familiar things move me… a celebration of what we have, instead of what we long for. That for me, is glamor.” – Isabella Rossellini

I turn 30 in a few short weeks. I don’t have grand plans – this is not going to be an inspiring, I’ve-quit-my-job-to-travel-the-world type of moment. But what I have learned recently is that life has a lot to teach you, and many people to bring your way irrespective of whether or not you are on the road.
So like countless before me, I have decided that my thirtieth year will be about lessons and learning’s – but from everyday life. I’m not leaving New York to seek out big adventures or meet people and discover their stories. I’ve found, if I dig deep enough, there’s a wealth of treasure to be uncovered right here in my backyard.

Starting 28th June, 2013, I will write brief letters to myself everyday about one thing a lesson that I have learned and a fact that has surprised me. Stay tuned.

 

Gender neutrality + women in the workforce

One of those posts where words, fortunately, are not required to make a point. Just these videos. That said, this is a conversation that is bound to get bigger. I’ve been reading Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In. I’m aware of the criticism surrounding it but it’s not worth anyone’s time to sit and critique a book obviously written with good intentions in mind. I’ve decided to take what’s meaningful and relevant to me from the book and apply it or at least try to apply it in my life at work and at home. Parts that are not relevant, well, I’m not going to be bothered about them.

Another line of thinking that I’m exploring is John Gerzema’s The Athena Doctrine – How women (and the men who think like them) will rule the world. John is my dear friend’s mentor and from what I’ve heard and read of the book, an advocate of more women leaders. He conducted a several years long study across several countries to understand and decode how people perceive masculine and feminine traits. The results are not that surprising. Words like arrogant, aggressive, independent etc are considered masculine traits worldwide. Words like gentle, reasonable, free-spirited, collaborative, caring are considered to be feminine traits worldwide. His thesis posits that the world needs more feminine traits in top leadership positions and the book talks about how to develop those traits. I haven’t read the entire book yet but I think I like where it is headed already.

Plus read this: What’s so boy about a boy who wants to wear a dress

On to the videos now. Just watch them one after one.

Props to Hasbor for listening to the little girl’s petition. They are unveiling a blue and silver easy bake oven for boys.

The Practice of Everyday Life

I found inspiration in the unlikeliest of places and it reminded me that we are surrounded by beauty all around us.  “Intimacy Under the Wires”, a project by New York based freelance travel photographer called Sivan Askayo depicts a series of homes with their laundry dripping dry on their windows or makeshift wires. Shot across Tel Aviv, Madrid, Barcelona, Florence, Venice – this mundane act of drying clothes took me back to my childhood. In my travels around the world, I’ve come to appreciate behaviors that are similar to those that I grew up with and on some level, I’m still astounded (and feel slightly not entirely at home here) that this practice doesn’t exist in USA. Probably the weather. And our access to technology. Anyways, Askayo’s series of photographs touched a chord. And taught me something about myself. That I’m drawn to observations and art that tells stories around everyday life.

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Artist Brenden O’Connell‘s Wal-mart series was another project that inspired me. I recently read a profile on him in the New Yorker. The interview traces his journey as the artist who came to find his muse in America’s consumerism. His most popular series of work shows people shopping at Wal-marts. Or rows upon rows of Cheetos or Utz or other Wonderbread in its colorful glory. In the article, he says, “Trying to find beauty in the least-likely environment is kind of a spiritual practice.” I loved this description because I share a kindred love and curiosity of the great supermarkets of our time. The supermarket, the least sexiest place in all of America, but probably the most visited. That speaks volumes to me.

Enjoy some snippets of his work below. Also pay homage to French author Michel De Certeau, whose book title I borrowed to title this post.

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Macy’s yes Virginia Musical


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One of my favorite pieces of work at JWT was for one of my favorite audiences: children. Watch the video. Check out the site. Read the press and see the awards! What an incredible team.

Awards:
Gold CLIO, Branded Entertainment & Content (Digital/Mobile)
Gold CLIO, Branded Entertainment & Content (Live Events)
Gold CLIO, Content & Contact
Silver CLIO, Integrated Campaign
Bronze CLIO, Digital/Mobile (Campaigns)
Bronze CLIO, Engagement (Experiential)
92nd ADC Awards, Silver, Integrated
92nd ADC Awards, Bronze, Online Content
Merit, One Show Interactive

On origins of everyday phrases

My current obsession has been centered around mythology and its contribution to everyday language and words. This delightful article from NYT on the origin of the phrase “the whole nine yards” caught my fancy. Here’s a fun excerpt from the article:

The recent discovery of several instances of “the whole six yards” in newspapers from the 1910s — four decades before the earliest known references to “the whole nine yards” — opens a new window onto “the most prominent etymological riddle of our time,” said Fred Shapiro, a librarian at Yale Law School who announced the findings in next month’s issue of The Yale Alumni Magazine…..Like the Holy Grail “the whole nine yards” has inspired both armchair mythologizing and years of hard and often fruitless searching through random books and miles of newspaper microfilm. Not that the expression is necessarily all that old. The first scholarly dating, in a 1986 supplement to the Oxford English Dictionary, traced it to 1970. The Historical Dictionary of American Slang then pushed it back to 1967, with a citation from “The Doom Pussy,” Elaine Shepard’s novel about Air Force pilots in the Vietnam War.

What brands can learn from start-ups

Fast CompanyScreen Shot 2013-06-08 at 2.00.00 AM was kind enough to publish some thoughts I had on how brands can learn from start-ups.

Copied below:

As a Digital Strategist, I’ve been in plenty of brainstorms and meetings where we talk about how we can co-opt popular digital behaviors and mechanics (check-in, badges etc) introduced by start-ups and digital companies. The cross-pollination of ideas and best practices is exciting and I specifically want to share five things start-ups can teach brands, each other and learn from brands.

Positioning: Couch the offering in familiar frameworks

Building on behaviors: Users find it easier to glom on to existing behaviors (badges, points, etc). If you are building a new digital campaign or creating a new product, think about your audience’s existing behaviors and start from there instead of trying to introduce new habits, and concepts. Both start-ups and brands anchor their products in existing behaviors to help explain what they do.

Examples:

  1. Kickstarter and donorschoose.org have made everyone an “investor”
  2. Weightwatchers turned the idea of losing weight into a game.
  3. Gilt took an offline sample sale and introduced the flash-sale concept
  4. Foursquare introduced the notion of checking-in.
  5. Learnvest has very cleverly used the gym-membership model to create a paid model for its offering
  6. American Express and Kate Spade are organizing their own flash sales.

 

The 10-word pitch

If you can’t describe the campaign or your product in ten words or less, go back to the drawing board. What’s your product/ app/ idea’s 5 word pitch? Examples:

  1. Kickstarter = “A new way to fund and follow creativity.”
  2. Skillshare = “Learn Anything. From Anyone. Anywhere.”
  3. Dailyworth = “A community of women who talk money”
  4. Tumblr = “Follow the world’s creators”
  5. Weduary = “Make your own beautiful and social wedding website”

Baked-In Marketing: Start-up’s almost always do not hire marketing folks. They let their product do the marketing.

Activating users to bring in new users: Most successful start-ups bake in audience acquisition levers into their product so that the product self-sustains itself and continues to bring in new customers on its own. How is your product bringing in new customers?

  • Everlane has the BEST acquisition levers I’ve ever seen. Most sample sale sites (Gilt, Rue La La, Ideeli etc) started off by offering monetary incentives – $10 for each friend invited and purchased to lure users to bring in more users. Everlane one-ups the system by creating tiers. 5-invited friend gets the user a discount. 10 friends bring the user a free luxe t-shirt, 50 friends – free shipping for life. This is the only site I’ve ever really invited my friends to. What is your strategy to activating your users into inviting more users?

One-step sign-up processes – again, this is something I’m watching most start-up’s get right from the beginning. Check our Tumblr or even Skillshare for how easy to make sign-up. In fact, Skillshare lets you explore the site’s offering and only requires sign-up’s when you want to follow a class or sign up for a class. Is your marketing campaign simple to participate in?

High Value Content

Creating Engagement: What’s the best piece of content that you can create that will make people want to use and become a part of your product experience?  Examples:

These entertaining content experiences invite press, buzz and expose the companies to new audiences. And the best part? Most of these videos are created for a small, small budget!

Demo/ How to use the product videos/ guides: This simple piece of content is the most overlooked and under-estimated. Demo videos or straightforward and simple keys on how to use the product are crucial in establishing trust, forming habit and encouraging new audiences to give the new product/ site a spin.

Examples:

MVP Filter

This one is a hard one to explain and show examples for. It is more of a process than a visible, tangible principle but I assure you, every successful start-up is successful because they have nailed this.  This principle asks a start-up to consider, what is the single-most important feature without which this product will not be this product? And that’s feature becomes the immediate priority. Once this is nailed, the communications, messaging and branding for the product becomes simple and straightforward.

This is also the most important principle for a brand to understand. A digital campaign cannot and will not hit all your metrics. One campaign will not drive awareness, trial and then purchase. Those are all different mind-sets and it is unfair to expect one story, one mechanic to achieve all three. Bring in the MVP. In my strategy sessions, this is the one tool I keep bringing in again and again. What is the immediate challenge/ problem we want to solve? If so, these are the type of mechanics that will most likely work and hence, this is the type of digital campaign that should be considered.

(Start-ups apply the minimum-value-product filter which is a prioritization tool to help them triangulate what is the one thing that the product must do/ be)

Community Evangelists

For a lot of start-ups, the world needs to be impressed before the users/ customers are impressed. So the right type of press and “buzz” is essential. Trippy.com built an all-star advisory board (Randi Zuckerberg, Soraya Darabi etc) because these advisors are avid travelers. By getting them to use their site, they’ve tapped into their networks for free! (Plus made them feel important by giving them the epithet of advisers) Who are the influencers in the your sector and what is your plan for attracting them in a manner that makes sense to them and to your brand?

In hiring community managers, brands must put in the same level of rigor and monetary investment that they put for other jobs. A community manager is the most important hire a start-up will make. This person makes in-roads into the community, and their presence brings serendipitous opportunities to the brand.

Results/ Impact

I personally love it when start-ups share their impact/ results. Not quite applicable to every start-up or brand but I’m a huge fan of Fab, Kickstarter and CharityWater and how they share their learning’s and metrics publicly. I think it’s a brilliant way of creating and sustaining interest in the company. (Esp when they use beautiful info-graphics)

Best life and career advice I’ve heard

Today at an early breakfast with Erin, (an incredibly inspirational woman. also the Dir of Operations at SVA’s Design in Social Innovation program) she passed on this gem of advice that someone else had passed on to her.

When thinking about your life and where it is going, try to answer these three questions as truthfully and honestly as you can
1. What makes you joyful? Joyful, not happy. You feel sorrow when this is not in your life.
2. What are you good at? Not what you think you are a good at. What are you actually good at?
3. Who do you want to serve? Everyone of us serves someone. Who is it that you want to serve?

I was blown away by the simplicity of these questions. That they are so simple, is what makes them so difficult to answer.

I’m often confused when people separate life and career advice or planning. We spend more time and energy at our places of work than anywhere else. To a large extend, the work we do and the things we make define us and fill our days. How can planning for this be different than planning for life?

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received or heard?

Home is where the family is

My mom left for India this Sunday after a two-month long visit. When I tell my American friends this, they give me a look of surprise. Followed by one of awe. And then I go on to explain how it works differently with Indians. And my family. I tell them that if I was still in India and unmarried, I’d be living with my parents. And that if I moved back and lived in the same city as my in-laws, we would live together. This concept is so foreign to most Americans. They only see the width and breadth of my studio and think how can three people live in this space. They think about my social calendar and work obligations and wonder how I would entertain my Mother for so long. I don’t blame them. It’s a cultural thing.

Seldom does advertising move me the way this ad has. In fact, by the time the ad was over, I was weeping. Remembering all the times I have stood at the airport saying bye or leaving. In fact, I don’t even consider this advertising.  This project aligns well with Coca-Cola’s Happiness Project and its brand idea, but I think it is every single brand’s responsibility to empower people. To celebrate them and bring them joy.

Big, big brownie points to Coca-Cola and McCann Manilla for looking beneath the underbelly of a nation and bringing it to the forefront.

What I hope to achieve with TED Ads Worth Spreading

As I sit to write this post, I am reminded of all the things in-between that I have missed sharing and writing about. It’s out in the news that I’ve been (humbled, honored, excited, insert more adjectives here!) invited to be one of the twelve nominators for TED Ads Worth Spreading Initiative. The category I’ve been assigned is “Creative Wonder.” And who better to be partnered with than Raghava K.K, former TED Speaker and artist-extraordinaire!

Let me back up a bit though. This is a big deal for me. I also understand that things like this usually beget the question, how did this happen. I’ve been asked this numerous times. The answer is surprisingly short.

I attended WPP Stream in Athens, Greece earlier this September where I hosted a discussion on “The Future of Publishing”. Toward the end of this discussion, Ronda Carnegie of TED and I ended up having an incredibly thought provoking conversation about the role of curation and point-of-view. And this is where our collaboration really began. I will confess that until she mentioned it to me, I hadn’t known of or seen the TED Ads Worth Spreading initiative. So you can imagine how humbled (but excited) I was when she invited me to participate in this initiative.

The thing is, I don’t have a traditional advertising background. I’m still figuring out how I can be useful in an ad agency. I started my career as a journalist at InStyle magazine and found my way into marketing through trend-spotting work that I was doing for PSFK and a bunch of other sites. Point is, JWT is my first “proper” advertising job and I’m not yet jaded or bored with it. In fact, I’ve only just begun.

TED is a powerful platform. I’ve had several people tell me that they don’t understand this initiative from TED. Why ads, they ask me. The way I look at it, advertising is one of the most easily accessible (and mainstream) forms of creativity and art. You have to understand – I grew up in India and we have a rich tradition and a healthy appetite and love for advertising. (I’m known to joke even today that American advertising is boring and lacks imagination when compared to Indian advertising.) Dinner-time conversations with family and friends often involved remarking on the brilliance of a particular advertisement. Even as an expat in New York, my friends and I tend to spend hours youtubing old ads, fabricating our own nostalgia.

Subliminally and overtly, advertising has been my first introductions to story-telling, to creativity and to capitalism. And I believe there is enough room in the industry for someone such as TED to come in with its own point of view on advertising and shape the dialogue further.

For TED, our one true mandate is to discover ads worth spreading that fall under the “Creative Wonder” category – which means we are looking for global work that elevates the craft of creativity in advertising through ingenious use of technology, music, cinematic treatment or even information.

From the moment we were briefed, Raghava and I felt strongly that it was essential for us to open up our process and not remain limited to our own networks or point-of-views in discovering creative work that is meant to speak for and represent our category globally. We believe that creativity doesn’t happen behind closed doors or without collaboration. Even advertisements need an army to make them! Hence, we have decided to democratize our search.

http://www.tedawscreativewonder.com is our humble effort at ensuring that not only is the process of discovering these advertisements transparent and democratic but also a story onto itself.

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We’ve invited a diverse group of artists, creative’s and thinkers to the project. Each of them brings a unique POV and their backgrounds, interests and experiences apply a different lens to this, which is crucial for this project. (We’ve already come across incredible ads that I wouldn’t have found on my own!) You can see our growing collection of nominations on our Pinterest board.

Our goal is to emerge not only with unique, global pieces of creative but also an amazing story of the works, how we found them and why we recommended them. Through the conversation and dialogue generated, we hope to elevate our and our community’s outlook on advertising and creativity.

I realize this was a rather long post – but would LOVE your insights and opinions. This is an experiment at crafting a point of view on creativity in advertising and the more people involved, the more enlightened our point of view will be. So drop me a note, yeah?

Liquid & Linked – Coca Cola’s fantastic marketing strategy

Although I use consume none of their products, Coca-Cola is by far one of my favorite brands in the world. Even before it defined its strategy, story-telling has been at the core of their communication efforts and I feel like I’ve grown with its narrative. I recently came across this fantastic presentation by Wendy Clark, Head of Integrated Marketing at Coca-Cola that talks about their 2020 vision. I found myself nodding vigorously to every point she was making and it’s so simple and so good that I wanted to capture some of those points here.

Watch live streaming video from adage at livestream.com

Paraphrased:

- As a brand, we refuse the shiny object syndrome. We have too many successes and learnings internally to abandon before we go after a new idea.

- There are equal number of television sets as there are computers; and both are eclipsed by the number of mobile phones. In fact, the Economist wrote: A baby is born every 4 seconds;  but 15 mobile phones are sold in those 4 seconds. Brands that don’t know how to tell stories on the phone will be left behind. (Another cool fact: Qatar has 212% mobile penetration)

- Strategy to achieving Coca-Cola’s 2020 vision (of doubling their business) is “Liquid and Linked.” Liquid because Coca-Cola’s communication must travel the furthest and “Linked” because it has to stay true to the brand strategy.

- Marketing model: Paid, Earned, Owned & Shared. Shared is a key piece of this model and how Coca-Cola is activating its consumer engagement.

- Paid as at the crux of what Coca-Cola does and it varies dramatically country to country. 80% of Coca-Cola’s target audience watches TV so ofcourse, their dollars are going to go there.

- With Shared, it is important that it is integrated. It is important to partner with the right kinds of distribution partners to ensure that the story does not fall apart.

- The mandate with owned is to activate it. Everything communicates: so as marketers it is important that we leverage everything from our cans and bottles to our equipment to our transportation. It is all hard working media for us. We constantly ask ourselves, how can we make these more interactive? And the power of design is critical when we think about owned media. Everything that is static now will become dynamic and contextually relevant. At any point in the continuum of connections, we will be able to share our story. Our global fleet is twice as large as that of Fedex and UPS combined. We are the fourth largest employee in the world. We need to ensure all these assets are working for us and we need to use them to drive our competitive advantage.

- Our approach with Earned is to Engage it. Our model for that is “Distributed Creativity.” Impressions will always be the backbone of how we measure it but they offer no level of engagement. So the way we are measuring impact is via Expressions – instead of impressions. Expressions is your engagement with my brand: like, share, comment, etc.. Consumers are driving the conversation by creating content. Share is more important to me, than like – That’s why we drive the expressions on our brand.

- What’s a fan worth? We’ve done our own research. Fans vs. non-fans – fans have two times the consumption frequency of a non-fan and have ten times the purchase intent of a non-fan. When we activated the fan page, we did a pre-and post against then. Even with our fans, our most loyal consumers – we drove a 7% increase in active consumption and 10% increase in purchase intent. (Marked differences in Columbia and Great Britian – but gives you an idea)

- Mandate on content for us is to tell powerful stories. We cannot afford to put out mediocre content. Stories ahve to be powerful, liquid and linked. We think about storytelling at Coca Cola from end to end. Simple text based programs for the global mobile audience.

- As marketers we have to meet our consumers at their truth and work them towards ours. You have to co-create, participate and honor the community. When we do, our community fans pay us back.

Summing it up, Liquid and Linked landscape means: innovate paid, activate owned, integrated shared and engage earned through storytelling content.

Rio, The Movie: How to tell a strong story

Screen shot 2011-04-14 at 1.06.28 PMYesterday, thanks to a dear friend, I had the privilege of witnessing a Crew Premiere for the multi-million dollar film, Rio. I watched the film mesmerized, completely drawn into the narrative. As a storyteller myself and someone that’s working on a middle-school fantasy fiction novel (is that a genre!?), I learned a lot from how Rio was made. Here are some of the elements or in an author’s word, “tensions” that made the story so gripping:

Brazil vs. Minnesota: Brazil, is without a doubt a character in the film. The juxtaposition of Brazil with Minnesota made it even more alluring and alive. The music, the colors, the accents, the favelas, the Carnival – one might say that the movie has taken every possible Rio sterotype and jammed it into the movie. But the exotic works.

Birds vs. Humans: I thought it was clever that the movie had two parallel story lines. Two sets of hero-heroines and villains. As Blu falls in love with Jewel, Linda falls for Tulio and the changes in all the characters are quite heart-warming.

Rare bird with a psychological disability: The plot itself created a lot of tension in the film: Blu is the last male blue mackaw of its kind. And he cannot fly. You know there’s going to be an interesting twist when you give the central character such strong strengths and weaknesses.

Coterie of colorful “bird” characters: One aspect the film lacked was a sidekick. I think the movie had a great cast of supporting characters but it would have been nice if they were consistent throughout to build a strong story arc. A lot of new characters were introduced and I kept wondering which one of them is important/ key. Turns out, all of them were and none of them were. If you know what I mean. (There’s Louis the dog, the woodpecker, the tweety-like bird, and the fat cockatoo – and then there’s the monkeys.)

All in all, I think I might have learned a lot more about how to craft a strong story from this movie than I have from traditional fiction writing books. As a marketer, perhaps I should also mention how clever the Rio + Angry Birds promotion is! :P

Why I’m leaving Soho for Madision Avenue

Or in this case, Lexington Avenue.

After almost three amazing years at Electric Artists, I’ve decided to take a new opportunity with a company that I’ve admired for long. Later this month, I will be starting my first day as Digital Strategist with JWT New York. I’ve joined a niche and unique group at JWT called JWT Experience charged with putting digital at the forefront of all the client businesses. From a recent press release, “Positioned as a peer to the Creative, Planning and Account departments, the Experience department is geared to ideate and develop digital experiences that enhance the other online skill sets within the business.”

I don’t think JWT needs any introduction – but for those that are not in the advertising/ marketing business, check out the Wikipedia page for high-level highlights.

Why this move? After spending the last years in 100% digital environments and doing some amazing work for a range of clients, I wanted a different challenge. And my decision to join a traditional agency is based on these thoughts:

1. Driving change on a large scale is impossible to achieve by a purely digital agency.  I believe that a marketing  concept has to be medium neutral – and the brands that will achieve the most success will be the ones that use all platforms in synch. As a Digital Strategist, I will always be partial towards the role of digital in business, but I want to acknowledge and understand how all the spokes of the wheel fit together. I want to put my money where my mouth is and instead of being one of those digital know-it-all’s that sit from the sidelines and criticize brands and traditional agencies for ‘not getting it,’ – I wanted to join one and be a part of this change internally.

2. The role of Digital Strategists in 2011 and beyond will be to inspire a shift in how digital is perceived. The ones that will have the strongest impact on the future of digital will be the ones that are thinking beyond tactical applications on digital platforms and tools. Imagine the volume and quality of work that can be done if there isn’t just one but a million digital evangelists, both on the agency side and the client side? Shifting this mindset and helping others embrace digital (while  learning from them) will elevate the industry on the whole and enable us to collectively do amazing things in the future. It’s probably not going to be easy or quick, but the ability to influence change and see it through is perhaps the most important skill-set I will cultivate as a business leader – and this stage in my career, that’s more exciting to me than launching yet another digital doodad.

As excited (and I’ll admit, a tad bit nervous) I am about this role, it is also with bittersweet memories that I leave EA. I found a mentor and a teacher in my boss here and couldn’t have asked for a more motley, fun and brilliant crew of colleagues to work with. Wish me luck  :)

How to think about naming a social enterprise

Recently, I’ve become more attuned to the finer uses of story-telling in a brand experience, namely, in the brand name. I’ve been thinking about how difficult it is for social enterprises and even non-profits to differentiate themselves and create a strong perception in the minds of their audiences. Social enterprises tend to have more inspirational names or even non-descript names that require some explanation. I understand the motivation behind it, but wonder if it’s in the best interest for the organization?

Is it more important for a social enterprise brand name to communicate its aspiration or its story?

I am not a naming expert and have never before named a brand, but personally I’ve been drawn to companies with names that encapsulate a story in itself. It lures me into discovering more about the enterprise, their background and eventually converting me into either a donor or at the very least a supporter and a very vocal proponent of the brand. Here is what I mean:

Falling Whistles: My first introduction to this charity was via a brief flip-book that told the story of four boy soldiers in Congo that were forced on the front-lines and were asked blow whistles to warn the rebel leaders of oncoming gunfire. The story is also told online using stunning imagery and eloquent text. Falling Whistles, an unseemly phrase, took on a different meaning in my mind and has stuck since. Not only does this brand make an excellent use of story-telling to explain the mission and campaign, but they’ve incorporate “story” throughout the brand experience: from the name of their campaign to the tools used to communicate their mission and the ask. I’m a fan.

Flying Kites: Similarly, this little NPF started by two twenty-somethings in USA, runs an orphanage in Kenya. At a recent StartingBloc event, I met a woman who has been volunteering at the organization for over a year and the passion in her voice and the stories she told was infectious. Flying Kites is a beautiful metaphor for how the organization see’s the future of the children whose lives they are trying to improve. Everytime I narrate this story, it’s not about a “friend that runs an orphanage in Kenya,” it’s about, “Flying Kites.” That’s powerful naming right there.

There’s also TOMS Shoes, Invisible Children, Pencils of Promise etc etc. Every organization is unique in its own right but

with so many diverse organizations focused on micro-causes and competing essentially for the same pool of money, it is SO important to establish brand recall. I think, a compelling story helps but an evocative name seals the deal.

Just my two cents.

3 Best Continuing Education sites

Learning never stops and here are three reasons why not.

OPEN CULTURE

Picture 4One of my favorite sites is Open Culture – a high quality cultural and educational blog for folks like us, where the learning does not stop at school or at the job. Run by Dan Colman, (Director and Associate Dean of Stanford’s Continuing Studies Program) Open Culture curates audio books, online courses, movies, language lessons, ebooks and much, much more. There is also an iPhone application.

SCHOOL OF LIFE

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The School of Life is actually a very unique store/ shop in London that sells a highly curated batch of books. What’s interesting about this shop is that the books are not listed by category, but by problem and each problem has no more than six books as a potential solution. (How to enjoy your own company; etc) The School of Life also offers a bunch of other content in form of events and salons that are about “how to live wisely and well.”  In their own words, ” We address such questions as why work is often unfulfilling, why relationships can be so challenging, why it’s ever harder to stay calm and what one could do to try to change the world for the better.”

The highlight of this institution is its Sunday Sermons program where they ask “maverick cultural figures to talk about what they see as the virtues to cling to and the vices to be wary of.” Sunday Sermons have covered various topics such as “Loving your neighbor; Punctuality; Wonder; Pessimism; Curiosity etc)

Part philosophical; part pedagogical – I’ve been a fan of these Sunday Sermon videos for a while and on my visit to London, this store/ shop/ cultural institution is on the top of my list of sites to visit!

KHAN ACADEMY

Picture 6Founded by HBS Graduate, Salman Khan, The Khan Academy is a NPF that uses video to empower everyone with a free, “world-class” education. The Khan Academy houses over 1600 videos made in digestible bites of 10-20 minutes each, covering everything from math to chemistry and physics to biology. Sal Khan maintains total autonomy over the content that is produced for the site. I’ve spent some time on the site and even re-learned some of the concepts I  had a weak understanding of (Limits, anyone?!) What works for me is that although the teaching is virtual (chalkboard and a voice-over) it’s not clinical or prescriptive. It is not formulaic either and focuses on instilling a deep understanding of the subject matter at hand – no other agenda.

Check it out – it’s worth a lecture.

Top 6 Under-the-Radar Creativity & Design Magazines you must read

Since I’m constantly in search of interesting, quirky and off-the-hook creativity and design magazines, it only makes sense to share my latest finds here.

Halo Magazine by Central Saint Martins

Picture 4A little known fact- Central Saint Martin’s School of Art & Design, puts out an excellent, well-researched magazine with unique stories on innovation and design. Also, the largely UK/ Europe perspective is refreshing and much appreciated.

As a Creativity magazine, Halo doesn’t necessarily get high points for sexy, eye-catching design but the content is pretty top-notch. The most recent, Innovation, issue includes snippets of unique art and fashion collabs and exhibitions. Definitely check it out. (And applaud the efforts of the students!)

8 Faces – Typography Magazine

Picture 5This is a more recent find – and only two issues old. I have not personally read it but any magazine that is sold out in under an hour has to belong on this list by default! On a more serious note, I like the concept of 8 Faces because it’s quite refreshing to see a specific, thematic approach to content. In this case, the magazine explores one core question – if you had to use only eight typefaces for the rest of your life, which would you use and why? The magazine poses this question to eight leading designers from diverse fields and creates a visually stunning portrait of the responses. It is a bi-annual publication and will be made available online as a PDF once all the 2500 copies are sold out.

Abe’s Penny

Picture 6I came across this litle gem on Cynthia Rowley’s blog. Abe’s Penny is not a traditional magazine – more of a collectible. Published by sisters, Anne and Tess Knoebel, Abe’s Penny launched a little over a year ago. The magazine features a series of weekly post-cards that feature a new story each month. The narrative unfolds in sequence, as a combination of photos and text. The most recent issue features photographs by Massimo Vitali and a story by James Yeh. With such high-profile power creatives on its mast-head, this magazine belongs more on your walls than on your coffee-tables. (PS – They also recently launched Abe’s Peanut- a micro-zine for children)

Lonny Magazine

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Launched about a year ago, Lonny is a purely digital magazine that still retains the best elements of the print magazine which is bewitching photography and artwork. This might not be as under-the-radar as the other magazines – Founded by Michelle Adams and Patrick Cline, both alumni of Dwell and a bunch of other interior magazines, Lonny has a fiercely individualistic tonality. I’m a huge fan of its Facebook fan page as well. Lonny has also amazingly managed to secure some pretty high profile advertisers to sponsor its magazine – providing a fully offline experience, online.

Design Mind

Picture 9design mind has been one my favorite go-to resources for inspiration and inquiry. An editorial product of the eminent innovation and design firm, frog design, Design Mind examines a cultural theme with each issue from “Work-Life” to “Numbers” and “Motion” to ‘The Substances of things not seen.” It is entirely written and designed by the frog employees  and often features celebrity guest writers. While the print version is only published thrice a year, the online website is updated daily with ideas and perspectives on emerging trends, technologies and culture.

I highly recommend this magazine for times when you are totally tapped out of inspiration and are looking to inject fresh energy in your thinking.

Patterns & Designs On

Picture 10Picture 11Who isn’t a fan of IDEO? Both Patterns and Designs On are a treat as they not only expose the IDEO process and thinking, but offer actionable insights. Pattern, just launched in 2009, has already published a handful of issues, all available online and as easy download-able pdf’s, Patterns shares insights and ideas that are universal across most IDEO projects. Designs On, is also a PDF digital booklet, but it explores actual solutions to world’s most pressing challenges. Both these magazines offer new insights and a peek into the IDEO process.

5 Best Design (and life) Manifestos

I am a fan of advice condensed in a form that I can print out and tape to my wall. Good work is 99% percent hard work and 1% inspiration and so here’s  the best 1% I’ve come across.

BRUCE MAU’S INCOMPLETE MANIFESTO FOR GROWTH

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Lets start with the ultimate and perhaps the best there is: The Incomplete Manifesto for Growth by Bruce Mau. Although it was written more than a decade ago, and passed down generation to generation, every word in these 43 truisms is still as applicable and relevant as it was in 1998. These three in particular resonated most strongly with me – perhaps a good reflection of where this blog in its maturity cycle.

40. Avoid fields. Jump fences. Disciplinary boundaries and regulatory regimes are attempts to control the wilding of creative life. They are often understandable efforts to order what are manifold, complex, evolutionary processes. Our job is to jump the fences and cross the fields.

8. Drift. Allow yourself to wander aimlessly. Explore adjacencies. Lack judgment. Postpone criticism.

18. Stay up late. Strange things happen when you’ve gone too far, been up too long, worked too hard, and you’re separated from the rest of the world.

This gorgeous typographic treatment of the Manifesto is done by Kate Andrews. You can also download a simpler PDF version of the Manifesto here.

THE CULTURAL DESIGN MANIFESTO

Picture 6This is brevity at its best. Central Saint Martins School of Art and Design has been responsible for some of the industry’s greatest design talent across all fields. These 80-words are the most profound language I have come across that do an incredible job of not only inspiring young designers but also elevating their role in society. And again, this manifesto, when applied in a broader context, rings true for other disciplines as well.

A MANIFESTO FOR SUSTAINABILITY IN DESIGN

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Allan Chochinov, Founder of the remarkable Core77 blog and someone I deeply admire, wrote this sometime ago. This manifesto makes a strong case for why sustainability and design should not be two separate conversations. Allan makes ten key points:

1. Hippocratic before Socratic: Designers are not in the artifact business, but in the consequence business.

2. Stop making Crap: (We like it when someone calls a spade, a spade!) Desginers are feeding this cycle – helping to turn everyone or everything either into a consumer or a consumable. This has gotta stop.

3. Systems before Artifacts: Before designing anything new, examine how we can use what already exists.

4. Teach Sustainability Early:  (Cannot agree more!)

5. Screws Better than Glues: Build and design in a way that people can understand the workings of their built artifacts and environments, and more importantly understand the role and impact of those built artifacts and environments.

6. Design For Impermanence: Paradoxical idea – but designers should be designing for an eco-system in which everything is recycled into everything else, not for permanence.

7. Balance for talents; Metrics before Magic and Climates before Primates

10. Context before absolutely everything.

INFORMATION VISUALIZATION MANIFESTO

Manuel Lima, author of the Visual Complexity blog, penned this simple manifesto on Information Visualization last year. The surplus of data in a digital age has created a strong need to make sense of it and understand the relationships in data to throw light and insight into world problems. Statistics and Stories, now belong in the same sentence. It’s no wonder then that Data Visualization and Info-graphics have emerged as dynamic new problem-solving tools. And that is exactly why, it is more important than ever for an accepted book of rules and guidelines to help those that are experimenting with data and information.

Among the ten points Lima makes, the one that speaks most strongly to me is:

The Power of Narrative: We have a deep and profound need to make sense of the world around us via stories. Whether these stories are told in form of words, language, pictures or information – it is important for the message to be crystal clear and the narrative to be compelling enough to touch the audiences.

Visualizations for the sake of visualizations, or stories for the sake of stories – no matter how aesthetically pretty, adds no value and impacts no change.

and lastly,

THE KARIM RASHID MANIFESTO

Picture 9I  love what Rashid says about poetic design.  Yes, it is a departure from the hard-hitting design with a meaning manifesto’s I’ve shared. Rashid’s belief that” Every business should be completely concerned with beauty – it is after all a collective human need,” can come across as shallow and less perceptive. But we live in a world where it is exactly this kind of pluralist thought economy that is driving the collective mind-meld on topics of more profound implications. It is important to value and offer due credit to points of view that fall across the spectrum.

Because ultimately as Rashid puts it, “Design is about the betterment of our lives poetically, aesthetically, experientially, sensorially, and emotionally.” And we need a multidisciplinary leadership of thought and ideas to achieve this.

Other Resources and Compilations on Manifestos:

100+ Years of Design Manifestos - A fantastic resource of all kinds of (didactic, poetic, brief, book-like!) forms of manifesto’s on design published over a century.

If you enjoyed this article, please like it, tweet it and tell your friends about it :)

Art on the move

I’m not the first to chance upon this story – but when I read it this morning, it warmed my heart. Meet Fabio Peralta, a taxi driver in New York. Peralta has been driving a cab for the last 40 years but since the last 3 1/2 years or so, he carries a sketchbook and a pen in his cab and asks his passengers to “Draw me a painting – any painting.” Peralta has assembled over 7000 sketches – if you are lucky enough to sit in his cab, he may even offer you a book of passenger sketches for a price of your choosing. It sounds like a happier version of post-secrets, on the move!

fabio_peralta

Lima, Peru

That’s me – Almost touching an alpaca!

It’s already September. I barely noticed the summer pass me by and here we are again, my favorite time of the year. Come September, I begin to feel a renewed glow of energy for life. The summer lethargy is washed away as things at work come back into focus and life fills back into the city, yes, even on weekends.

We’ve managed to stay mostly local this summer and I wouldn’t have had it any other way. I think R and I are both the kind of people that need and want home time to re-charge and feel grounded.
But now summer’s ending and our travels are about to begin again, with Claire’s wedding in Ireland.

I want to backtrack for a second though and speak briefly about Lima where I was earlier this year.

In hindsight, Lima was a joke of a trip. I’m not even sure how I ended up there. I remember an annoying day at work and RS pinging me online about a ridiculous deal to Lima. And even though I had no vacation time left, I bought two tickets. Machu Pichu was never on the agenda so I don’t feel bad about missing out on it. I know we’ll return. Last minute visa issues prevented R from making the trip and I bitched my way to the airport, turning back several times, but finally pulling through. I’m glad RS was traveling with me though and we ended up having a terrific time. Sort of felt like being in college again – what with living in a hostel and going out drinking and partying every night. It was a welcome change. Made some friends, ate some incredibly fresh food, finished reading four books on my Kindle, went cliff-jumping and laughed uncontrollably when RS flashed and mooned the locals as she changed into her surf-gear.

Lima reminded me of an old, forgotten shanty-town. Bollywood references (whether it was Shahrukh Khan’s photograph peeking from a Spanish magazine or a Peruvian woman at the salon opening up her cell-phone to play Bole Chudiyan for me) were never more than two feet away. Even at a local music store, A.R Rahman’s CD’s and his music permeated the atmosphere. It’s times like these when tiny waves of pride and joy envelope me, even if its just for a second. It’s humbling to belong to such a vibrant and rich culture. I feel its influence very viscerally in the most unexpected places.

Paragliding – one of the best pleasures of Lima

(Or maybe I seek it out. It’s strange how I look for references to Bombay every time I visit a new country, a new city. It helps me draw parallels and quickly orient myself into unfamiliar surroundings.)

I’m not much of a history nut, but the catacombs at San Fransisco Church, Plaza de Armas in downtown Lima took my breath away. I was fascinated. To imagine it was someone’s job once to handle these bones and skulls and arrange them in such perfect symmetry for the benefit of wide-eyed tourists such as me…wow. History is same all over. A hero, a martyr, an uprising, a revolt, a victory, a defeat. I’m more fascinated with the now. How do people live now and how different are their lives from mine? What do they read? What are their favorite foods? What are their dreams and aspirations? What do they think about the world outside of their immediate lives? What are their imaginations like? and where do their curiosities lead them?

Another memorable experience in Lima was our last dinner at Almazen. RS heard of this place and it took us a solid two hours to find it. I lost my patience a few times, out of hunger and then out of annoyance, but RS’s determination prevailed and we finally hopped into a cab only to realize that the restaurant was three blocks from our hostel.

With my close friend RS, overlooking the Pacific!

Henry, the chef and owner of Almazen, was immediately taken by our candor and excitement. We were the only guests in the restaurant and Henry made it worth our while. We engaged on a gastronomical journey tasting Peru’s local fruits and vegetables. Who knew cactus fruits are delicious, bright and moist red? Who knew tomatoes originated out of Peru? We learned this and more from Henry. His story was just as inspiring: a vegetarian out of choice, he is as Peruvian as they come. With his lightly accented English, he told us of the time he spent in England before returning back to start a vegan restaurant in Lima. The food we ate had only hours before arrived from his farm 45 minutes outside of the city. Both RS and I agreed that this dinner was perhaps one of the richest experiences we’ve had in Lima.

On a different note. I will remember Lima. A lesson on moral boundaries and an epiphany but perhaps, this trip was meant to be a story from the moment it began. If its cryptic, it’s meant to be.

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Irish Storytelling Tradition at its best

We just returned from a short trip to Ireland. It is heartfelt when I say that Ireland is one of the most beautiful countries I’ve visited and even one of the best vacations I’ve had. It’s a country with million shades of green, rainbows that appear and disappear with the chimerical weather, fluffy yellow sheep that cross the roads at their plea sure and a stunning landscape that forces you to stop and give Ireland the attention and awe it is due.

I could wax eloquently about the mountains and the people. (not the food!) But right now I want to share my brief sojourn to the coolest art exhibit I’ve been to. We spent a few hours in Dublin and couldn’t resist the “National Leprechaun Museum” signs in the city. We followed teh signs and paid the 14 Euros fee to the museum. Absolutely unsure of what to expect, we walked inside with a group of Italians, Norwegians and a woman from North Carolina.

Our introduction to the museum began with a brief history of the leprechaun and its place in Irish stories and fantasies. As we traced the origins of the little green men, we learned a lot about the Irish penchant for storytelling and weaving tales. We also learned how the Irish bought the leprechaun stories to America and were shocked a few decades later when America packaged and exported back the leprechauns to Ireland in form of Simpons (the Leprechaun episode) and drawings on boxes of cereal. Cultural trade!

We also learned why storytelling is at the core of Irish culture. With its tumultuous history, the Irish often have had nothing but stories and tales and conversations to carry forward and pass on to the next generations. The magic, wonder and imagination is the gift the pass on – and evident in Ireland’s rich literary legacy. (Ireland is the only country that has three n oble laureates)

Anyways, so this exhibit was the brainchild of a local Dublin architect, Tom O’Rahilly. From what I was told, Tom is obsessed with storytelling and wanted to create a fun, experiential way to experience Irish stories. And boy, did he!

The museum has twelve rooms that you are free to explore, take pictures and play around in. Each room offers a very interesting perspective of dimension, color, story and play. There’s the Giant’s Causeway, the Tunnel (an important symbol in fantasy storytelling!) Life-sized furniture, Rainbow colors, Story walls & so on. At the end of the museum is a place to chill, make drawings and read more about the rich Irish tradition of st ories, faeries and leprechauns.

Here are some photos from our visit to the museum. The museum is only six months old so still making into all teh Guidebooks. Serendipity at its best! And I’ll admit, I’m psyched to h ave had such a rich, fulfilling and wholesome experience in Dublin. Even though we only spent a few hours in the city, it was absolutely worth it.

Storytelling is my passion as well. I wis h I could do it as well as others but I try, in my little ways. Maybe that’s why this particular visit has so profoundly affected me. I can tell you one thing for sure, I’ll be courting Ireland and its stories for a long, long time to come.

Ireland 2010 136Ireland 2010 131

Copenhagen, Denmark

The Curious Case of the Drunk American:
When: April 2011; 4 days

The Little Mermaid, Copenhagen

I have one remarkable story to share. The solitary statute of the Little Mermaid (from Hans Christian Anderson’s fairy tale) is Denmark’s pride. We made the thirty minute walk from Nyhaven to see her. The guidebooks extol her beauty but we were warned to keep our expectations in check.

We were besotted. She was breath-taking. She evokes a deep sadness and longing. The area was least assuming – no tourist traps, no food vendors or memento vendors. Just her. Alone on her rock.

A passing cyclist stopped by us and chatted us up cracking jokes and telling us little anecdotes about the Mermaid. For a 98 year old statute, the Little Mermaid has suffered two decapitations, one theft and and several vandals (once someone colored her entirely neon pink). But she’s just been restored back to her original state by the Danish government. “She’s the most photographed little lady in the world, perhaps.” remarked our cyclist friend.

It was a calm evening and the dusk was fast approaching. We were high on conversations and the Baltic air. The atmosphere around us was full of lightness and happiness. A bunch of backpacking Euro kids stopped by and admired the Mermaid’s graceful stance. A father hoisted his two daughters on a stone next to the Mermaid to take a better picture. All was well until, three (I’m afraid) loud, brash and severely inebriated American kids ambled up to the Statue. On their arrival, the moment was broken and the spell was broken. The crowd began dispersing.

One of the drunk kids, decided to truly prove every single stereotype about Americans (but didn’t realize that he was just illustrating a stereotypical asshole.) He proceeded to climb up the slippery rock and mount himself on top of the Little Mermaid. Then he began making vulgar proclamations and touching the Mermaid inappropriately. Several families with kids turned away and the group of European kids stood transfixed observing this uncouth American kid. He commanded his drunken friends to take photographs of himself over the Mermaid. And after entertaining him for a few minutes even his drunk friends sensed the disdain and rage amongst the bystanders and became nervous. They began making loose statements and disowning their friend, “I don’t know you.. You aren’t with us. Get down.”

This encouraged the drunk friend and he took his antics a notch above. My heart reached out for the motionless statute. I understand its a lump of metal, but the kids antics felt extremely violating.  98 years of history had bequeathed the statute a life. What this kid was doing and what probably several other kids had done, felt wrong and disrespectful. It defiled her. Shortly thereafter, having made his very important point about his superior balls and large penis, the drunk kid began his descent.

There was a wave of unrest amongst the crowd. My friend and I debated yelling at the guy. The Euro kids looked continued to stare at the three boys. Our cyclist friend stood next to us and observed. Silently, everyone was hoping for and demanding justice. Karma.

And then it happened, the drunk America slipped his footing and splashed into the water. His cheek slammed against the rock and he got up, dazed. But the minute it happened, the onlookers erupted into an applause. (Myself included) How the mighty hath fallen!

The fall wasn’t dramatic, the water was barely half a feet. And the kid wasn’t injured. But there was a poetic and metaphorical justice to this fall. The story had come to a beautiful close and our eyes reflected satisfaction and pride at a revenge well served.

Among other highlights from Copenhagen, here is a brief photo slideshow. Hope you enjoy!

Dublin, Ireland

Although we flew in and out of Dublin, we were more interested in exploring the Irish country-side and so didn’t allot more than half a day to walk around Dublin. The traffic was nuts – we managed to park our car two blocks from the Temple Bar neighborhood. We intended to cover as much of the City Center area as we could and marched into a brisk walk, stopping briefly to awe at interesting sights.

As it would happen, a strange little green sign for the “National Leprechaun Museum” caught my fancy. Even though we were short on time, we decided to follow the signs. Ten blocks down, we ended up at the museum. We were so curious about what such a museum could possibly have, that we bought the tickets! Absolutely unsure of what to expect, we walked inside with a group of Italians, Norwegians and a woman from North Carolina.

The “Tunnel”

So turns out, it is not so much a museum as it is an interactive thesis on the storytelling tradition of the Irish.  Our introduction to the museum began with a brief history of the leprechaun and its place in Irish stories and fantasies. As we traced the origins of the little green men, we learned a lot about the Irish penchant for storytelling and weaving tales. We also learned how the Irish bought the leprechaun stories to America and were shocked a few decades later when America packaged and exported back the leprechauns to Ireland in form of Simpons (the Leprechaun episode) and drawings on boxes of cereal. Cultural trade!

We also learned why storytelling is at the core of Irish culture. With its tumultuous history, the Irish often have had nothing but stories and tales and conversations to carry forward and pass on to the next generations. The magic, wonder and imagination is the gift they pass on – and evident in Ireland’s rich literary legacy. (Ireland is the only country that has three noble laureates in literature)

Giant Furniture

Anyways, so this exhibit was the brainchild of a local Dublin architect, Tom O’Rahilly. From what I was told, Tom is obsessed with storytelling and wanted to create a fun, experiential way to experience Irish stories. And boy, did he!

The museum has twelve rooms that you are free to explore, take pictures and play around in. Each room offers a very interesting perspective of dimension, color, story and play. There’s the Giant’s Causeway, the Tunnel (an important symbol in fantasy storytelling!) Life-sized furniture straight from Alice’s Wonderland, A room with a hundred thousand Rainbow colors, and a Wishing well room.

The Wishing well was one of my favorite rooms because we literally sat on the ledge of a largish well and peered down at the leprechaun gold (fake gold!) as a young literature student from Trinity College regaled us with Irish stories. I have fond memories of this kid – he was incredibly engaged and so intelligent. He weaved in stories from his own childhood and made our listening experience even richer. The room itself is a little dark and warm – exactly the kind of room that makes you want to curl up and listen to stories with a fire crackling nearby.

Leprechaun Gold

At the end of the museum is a place to chill, make drawings and read more about the rich Irish tradition of stories, faeries and leprechauns. We left our drawing on the wall – so who knows, maybe if you visit the museum, you might see our little drawing in its archives.

Storytelling is my passion as well. I wish I could do it as well as others but I try, in my little ways. Maybe that’s why this particular visit has so profoundly affected me. I can tell you one thing for sure, I’ll be courting Ireland and its stories for a long, long time to come.

Helsinki, Finland

When: July 2009; 5 days

With: R & J
Helsinki sits on the edge of the world; or so I felt when I spent five days there. The sun never tired and the air tasted crisp and clean. As you read more about my journeys, you will know that I don’t plan very long sojourns into new countries. I take what I can get. While a handful of days are not enough to experience any city in its entirety, they are just enough to whet my appetite, so I can make solemn promises of return.

Helsinki was a birthday gift planned artfully by R and my sister. Even though our flight was delayed from New York, we made it in good time. R and J are not the kind of travels that enjoy roughing it out – so its my default that if I’m traveling with them, we end up at amazing hotels. I’d be hard pressed to convince either one of them to hostel it out with me. This trip as no different – we stayed at the fantastic four-star Hotel GLO. It’s strategic location (now I sound like an ad for Hotel GLO) allowed us to walk everywhere. They sweetened our stay by offering us free access to laptops, bikes, a SmartCar and (thank God) breakfast. And what a spread it was! Freshly baked breads, sliced tomatoes, rocket, variety of cheeses and jellies. If you eat meat, your breakfast just got ten times better with the assortment of cured meats, eggs and other goodies they offered.

My more permanent memories of Helsinki are 1) a panoramic view of enormous cruise ships bayed at its port on the Baltic and 2) a design sensibility so strong and so tangible that it put Helsinki on the global map as the World Design Capital for 2012.

Helsinki Cathedral

My favorite place in Helsinki was the “Helsinki Cathedral.” It is an awe-inspiring magnificent white structure, with tall green domes. Although it is one of the most popular tourist destinations, it was relatively empty the morning we paid it a visit. I remember this church in particular because it’s neoclassical architectural influences had me confused. Its entrance is a close replica of the Pantheon or the Green Parthenon, which made sense when I wikipediad it and learned that it was built by Carl Ludvig Engel, a German architect known for his neoclassical style.

R and J rented bikes from the hotel and I walked. After spending a few hours at the Cathedral, we visited the Uspenski Cathedral, a clearly Russian church designed by a Russian architect. I was charmed by the unusual golden red color of the Cathedral, but both the interior and the exterior were extremely overwhelming and impossible to process in one visit.

But most favorite adventure in Helsinki was when I convinced the two of them to take the train with me to an industrial suburb of Finland in search for the Marimekko outlet. Because the trip was in honor of my birthday, they couldn’t possibly deny me my madcap request. So we boarded a bright orange subway and made our way to this mythical outlet. Thirty minutes out of Helsinki and our surroundings began to resemble those of suburban Pennsylvania. My throat constricted and I felt a little sick. You see, travel puts me in a slightly disjointed frame of mind. When the newness of it begins to remind you of the trivial you left behind, the magic dissolves. “Fuck, this is just like the burbs!” The ugly freeways, squat industrial buildings, not a soul on the roads. So eerily similar. Upon on closer introspection, I thought, why wouldn’t it be? It wasn’t like I had traveled through time or that I sought an experience that was nestled in mostly in fantasy. And yet, the stark reminder was jarring.

Uspenski Cathedral

We got off at a nondescript station and in the scorching heat, began trying to negotiate our way through the freeway traffic. We asked anyone we met on our way if we were headed in the right direction. Most had no idea. At one point, we even contemplated walking back. Eventually though, we found the outlet. It was a small flat building with no signs on it. We knew because we watched a car laden with Marimekko bags drive past us. I want to say that it was worth it or that I ended up buying just what I had in mind. But the truth is, it was a strictly OK experience. I might have acted extra happy then to avoid the collective wrath of my travel companions, but secretly I was a little disappointed because even though we were at the outlet store, I couldn’t afford a whole lot more than at the actual store!
Nonetheless, I dug, rummaged and found a couple hundred meters of affordable and stunning fabrics for home (which by the way, took me a little over two years to stitch and upholster my pillows with) All in all, it was an incredibly unique adventure and opened my eyes to an alternate reality of travel.

(PS: Marimekko is a Finnish textile company that is world-famous for its bright fabrics used both for high fashion and home furnishings. If you’ve watched Mamma Mia – the movie – you’ve glimpsed at Marimekko fabric which was all over the movie: on Meryl Streep’s clothing lines, in her bedroom, even on the boat. Marimekko Stateside fame, however, is attributed to Jacqueline Kennedy who wore Marimekko dresses throughout the 1960′s Presidential campaign.)

At the ridiculously overpriced Ice Bar

With the prime purpose of our trip achieved, we spent the rest of our time in Helsinki drinking, partying, saunaing and in general merriment. We met a few travelers at the Absolute Ice Bar (which is a total waste – a 10×10 room made of ice-blocks; barely fits more than three people at a time and costs 10 Euros to enter! Definitely not worth it.)

Helsinki has an incredible night-life. If you can stay up that late, that is. It only begins a little past 1a.m and goes on until early morning. We just didn’t last. We’d been up since 6am and by midnight, were ready to call it a night.

Midnight, according our watches. If you looked were outside without one, you could never tell what time it was because the sun just never set! Our hotel room had thick black-out curtains that simulated darkness, the only way we could fool our bodies into believing it was night and time for bed.

There’s probably more I could write about Helsinki but I didn’t take notes then and now it’s too late to rummage through my head for stories.

The New Princesses

Picture 10It’s interesting how the damsel-in-distress and prince charming saves the day theme is the essence of most fairy-tales. What kind of conditioning do these tales provide little girls ?

There’s one set of stories: Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella and Snow White that may condition girls to think of their partners as their ultimate saviors. And then there’s another set of stories: Beauty and the Beast, Princess and the Frog etc: that give the impression that love can and does change ugliness into beauty and beasts into princes.

Research has shown that girls that over-identify with fairy-tales are more likely to fall victim to abusive relationships because sub-consciously, they take on the role of the submissive, passive female role model, expecting love and patience to change their partners’ behavior. This quote in particular struck me, “Small children may interpret the story-book submissive roles as a template of how society expects them to develop.” That is disturbing.

When I see movies like “Shrek,” there’s hope that our perception of princesses is changing. “Shrek” to be will always be seminal work of art and cultural reform. It took everything we know and believe about fairytales and princesses and turned it on its head.

Yes, princesses can be fat and stinky. They can and do burp. They know karate and are capable of taking care of themselves. And they are extremely capable of falling in love with the ugly – of seeing beyond. So there’s hope. I know the kind of media I’ll be feeding my kids when they arrive.

Even the new version of “The Princess and the Frog” is quite encouraging. She’s no princess but an ordinary waitress who dreams of owning her own restaurant someday. She’s drive, ambitious and diligent. Then she kisses a frog out of desperation and becomes a frog herself. I love how new writers and thinkers are taking what we know about fairytales and princesses and flipping it around.

Yes, princesses have dreams. And they don’t all want to live in a castle. And they are good at other things besides looking pretty.

I want to see how technology and storytelling come together to create empowering learning experiences for little girls. I want little girls to dream about themselves, the possibilities, their own potential and all the various things they could enjoy about life. I want them to be surrounded by media and cultural artifacts that work as critical thinking tools that will allow girls to think for themselves.

Have you come across such digital tools? I wish I had more kids around me or was friends with more forward-thinking parents. I’d love to learn what’s on their mind and what kind of education they dream of giving their girls.

On philosophy, morality and children

This is a rambling of ideas and thoughts that have been floating in my head for the last few days. This morning, I read a very interesting piece in the NYT about an experimental study in a second-grade classroom at a charter school in Massachusetts where undergraduate students from Mount Holyoke College teach these children philosophy. Not about philosophers but about the higher value, morals and questions with no right or wrong answers. The idea that Prof. Thomas E. Wartenberg purports is that philosophy is not an elitist discipline and that children have the capacity of abstract thinking and thus developing deep reasoning skills via participating in dialog of philosophical issues around stories and fables.

I find new ideas and new methods to improving education very compelling. Critics will argue for and against Prof. Wartenberg’s approach, but I think it’s important to consider how similar it is to what parents do with their children after reading a story book to them: they talk at their children about the morals associated in the story. If I collected a penny for every-time my cousin has compared her daughter’s actions to a fictional but highly respected character, I’d be richer. But I think doing it in a classroom and allowing the children to express their thoughts and feelings is different than a parent relating the moral of the story to them. Also, exposing them to each other’s thoughts and feelings probably makes the experience far richer for them.

I think the point here isn’t that Prof. Wartenberg chooses to take a philosophical approach to inculcate reasoning skills in second graders – the point is how he does it. Quite simple actually – they read a book together and then they talk about it.

By now they knew the drill: deciding whether or not they agreed with each question; thinking about why or why not; explaining why or why not; and respecting what their classmates said.

There was no real point to this blog post apart from expressing wonder at a professors attempt to inspire a tiny portion of how we educate our children and prepare them for the future.

Exit Through The Gift Shop – A Banksy Film Review

exitSo last night I had the opportunity to go to an exclusive (oh, I feel special!)screening of Banksy’s “Exit Through the Gift Shop.” So here’s the strange and in hindsight, a very Banksy-ish thing about the movie that he made – it’s not about him. Yep. And if you think that you might actually be disappointed that the movie isn’t about him, you are wrong. Because the character that the film is about is an extraordinary metaphor for what’s possible when you are…. sort of winging it.

Enter Thierry Guetta or (circa 2008) Mr. Brainwash. But let me rewind for a bit and, to the uninitiated, tell you why this movie is a big deal and why you should watch it.

You’ve probably heard of Banksy – if you haven’t heard of him, you certainly have at some point come across his work. When I think of how best to describe him, I can only say that he is a dichotomy, in that, he is one of the world’s most famous street-artists, but ironically he is also entirely anonymous. A total mystery. His true identity is shrouded in mystery and there are probably ten people in the world who know of it. I suppose his meticulously orchestrated anonymity has played a large part in creating his intriguing identity as a street-artist. His work is amazing and if you aren’t familiar, I highly recommend to get on top of your cultural education and learn about him.

For the last two years, I’ve been clued into street-art phenomena because of my boss, Marc Schiller. Marc, like Banksy, leads a dichotomous life. By day, he is a prolific strategic thinker and a marketer and outside work, he is a street-art connoisseur and the founder of Wooster Collective. It is inevitable that his passion for street-art rubs off on the team and at the very least, we’ve become more attuned to this esoteric world.

So that’s the spiel. Think of Banksy as the Brad Pitt or the Obama the street-art world. So when he makes a movie, it’s guaranteed to become an art piece as Marc says. So what’s the film about – and I quote Banksy, when I say, “The film is the story of what happens when this guy tried to make a documentary about me but he was a lot more interesting than I am, so the film is now kinda about him.”

That’s just it. And the guy in question is Thierry Guetta.

He is a character. Multi-dimensional, funny, slightly over-the-top and mostly unbelievable. The film traces Thierry’s story from an untalented video-film maker to an overnight commercial street-artist. (Yes, notice the irony?) It begins in France when Thierry stumbles upon his cousin (who eventually picks up the pseudonym Space Invader) creating Space Invader inspired art-pieces. Intrigued, he films his cousin placing the art strategically across various nooks and streets of Paris and thereby, igniting his own interest in street-art.

Thierry’s path leads him to Shepard Fairey and eventually to Banksy who inspires Theirry to find his own artistic calling. (Because film-making definitely wasn’t it!) Not one to let Banksy down, Theirry soon finds his distinctive style (Andy Warhol reborn) and goes on to become an art sensation literally overnight, selling over $1 million in art.

In my opinion, this paradoxical nature of Thierry’s rise to fame and success is really the essence of the film. What’s more important for an artist? Commercial success of respect of his peers? Because while Thierry rakes in millions, it’s not clear whether his peers (Shepard Fairey, Banksy) believe that Theirry earned the success.

Also, how does this lens change when the artist in question is a street-artist? The footage leading up to Guetta’s seminal and first show “Life is Beautiful,” tells a story of a man who in his naivete decides he has every right to be and deserves to be an artist as big and famous as Banksy. It makes the audience question the integrity of his intentions but also hopelessly making them fall in love with this outlandish, clown-like character. “But that’s how Banksy did it…” was his response when someone questioned him about the practical and logistical details of his art show. It at once, sounds so silly and yet, so endearing that the only appropriate response is to laugh and go along with Banksy and Guetta for the ride.

Personally, I walked away feeling a little bit foolish. In one particular scene, as a marketing and PR stunt Geutta promises exclusive limited edition one-of-a-kind prints of his work to the first 200 people that enter his show. To make each print unique, he lines them up in one long row and like a child playing with color, he sits in his wheelchair (with a broken foot) and as he rolls down the line, he spray-paints a red and yellow squiggles across all 200 prints, making each print a (moronically) unique representation of pure bullshit.

Oh and guess what? I’ve actually paid for similar “exclusive one-of-a-kind, limited edition” artist prints.

So there.

If anything, this movie will give you an entirely new perspective and appreciation for street-art. And you might just walk out a little bit smarter.

In full disclosure – My company is handling the marketing of this film. Only because Marc is one of the few people Banksy trusts.

Watch the short video clip here:

Social media is your bubble. Not mine.

Umair Haque’s controversial post has caused quite a stir in the community. Bud Caddell’s response mirrors my thoughts and brilliantly articulates the flaws in Umair’s argument. I wanted to share a few thoughts of my own to add to this debate.

It’s largely home to weak, artificial connections, what I call thin relationships. Today social media is trading in low-quality conncetions – linkages that are unlikely to yield meaningful, lasting relationships.

Umair assets that thin connections offer no value and I have an issue with that. His statement assumes that people are not smart, in that they let crowd their lives (and social networks) with meaningless relationships that add no value to them. I look at it differently. For one, and this is mostly a nod to Bud’s point, social media isn’t meant to help you create new relationships – but to help strengthen existing ones. Frequent interactions whether they are by sharing information, inconsequential tweets or debates, help cement an existing relationship and give it a foundation.

Regarding thin relationships, Haque assumes that they don’t already exist in our “offline” lives. Neighbors, car-pool groups, the yoga group, parents of your kid’s friends – these are all thin relationships. And they do add value to your life – even if the only value they add is convenience. Social media has helped accelerate the quantity of thin relationships we can now create – AND it has created new kinds of value we can extract from these relationships.

I frankly also believe that as a culture we are past the point where an “online” relationship doesn’t constitute a “real” relationship. I look at an online friend, acquaintance or person as somebody I have simply not met in-person yet. Social media tools and technologies have afforded us the ability to get a proper picture of an “online” person’s personality, likes, dislikes and thought processes. We aren’t in the 1990′s where an “online” person was just a username in an IRC chatroom. As such, our definition of the word “relationship” has evolved. Perhaps it hasn’t been verbalized yet.

The “relationships” at the heart of the social bubble aren’t real because they’re not marked by mutual investment .

Social media is an investment that works for multiple relationships. The design of the technology allows your investment in it to affect and reach more than one person at any given time. That said, naturally, if you develop an affinity towards someone thinking, you are bound to communicate more often with them and as such “invest” more time into the relationship. What Haque misses here is that the relationships in social media begin by mutual interest and have the flexibility to grow together or apart into various branches.

In response to Haque’s point about social media’s inability to replace traditional gatekeepers – I think that Social media is not meant to replace or dis-intermediate any gatekeepers but complement their efforts.

People invest in low-quality content. Farmville ain’t exactly Casablanca. Third, and most damaging, is the ongoing weakening of the Internet as a force for good. Not only is Farmville not Casablanca, it’s not Kiva either. One of the seminal examples of the promise of social media, Kiva allocates micro-credit more meaningfully. By contrast, Farmville is largely socially useless. It doesn’t make kids tangibly better off; it just makes advertisers better off.

Calling games like Farmville socially useless, is the biggest and most profound logically flaw in his argument. What differentiates useful from the useless? Because kiva.org is impacting change and Farmville is largely creating entertainment – is that the basis for dismissing the value games like farmville add to the social and cultural environments we thrive in?

If that’s the underlying principle for Haque’s argument, he is essentially implying that entertaining pursuits that don’t make us better off, are useless. And that’s bullshit. We are multi-dimensional people, with multi-dimensional skills, interests, hobbies and desires. If I can donate $50 to Kiva.org, I am also capable of engaging with farmville for two hours. And no other platform reflects this better than social media.

As a society needs a balance of do-gooders, entertainers, bankers, artists and critics to flourish and grow, the evolution of social media and social technologies will only happen with a balance of similar pursuits. For every kiva.org, we need a farmville. At the end of the day, it’s not just about how we are impacting change, but also about how are we constantly challenging the status-quo and enriching our critical thought processes, that creates value and elevates the society as a whole.

Social media, the buzz, the conversations are not in a bubble. They are happening all around us – in our physical world. They are shaping and re-shaping our offline cultures constantly and with that, it is constantly challenging how we look at the world. We are all re-evaluating our opinions and ideas with an acceleration that wasn’t really around before.

Social media is a bubble, because we call it so. We (digital strategists, social media “gurus,” adagency and creative types) live in our own bubble only listening to, responding to and exposing ourselves to each other’s thoughts and ideas. The minute you step out of it and surround yourself with a different set of people, a different set of voices – you’ll notice that social media is not really a bubble anymore.

Just my two cents. Would love to hear what you think.

MoleSkine Secerts!

Picture 2Picture 1I made a very interesting discovery last night.

My MoleSkine ran out of pages and I desperately needed a new one. So I walked to Strand. (FYI – They always have a terrific collection of Moleskine’s for atleast $3-$4 less than traditional venues)

I’m pretty loyal to the black hard-covered ruled notebook. It retailed at Strand for $14. As I was buying it, I noticed a fatter, thicker version of a ruled notebook and I picked it up to discover it wasn’t a notebook but a 2010 Daily Planner. And it was on sale at Strand for $7.95!!

I quickly scanned through a open copy of the Planer and noticed that it was just like the regular notebook! (Only with dates and times on every single page – but who cares?!)I’m only concerned with writing and anyways my Moleskine, by the time I finish it, is barely recognizable. I liked the idea of having more pages to write and doodle on.

For $8, I not only ended up getting twice the amount of pages, but also a cool little telephone booklet and all these fancy features like a calendar, travel planning page and such.

So yea – a little known secret of the publishing industry. Yearly Daily Planners become quite worthless after December and come January, you’ll find most of these in sale racks. The logic is that most people do their planner/ calendar shopping before the new year begins and they don’t quite enjoy the idea of starting a new planner a few months into the new year.

Works for me though :D And if your concern is the pages and the writing, it should work for you too.

On Ideas and keeping them

.. an idea just hit us out of nowhere, leaving really no other choice than to run after it. I was the proponent of “it’s not the idea, the execution that counts.” And it’s funny how easy it was to say that when I wasn’t the one with the idea. I suppose an idea is like a baby, anyone who has one alone can see the potential and the possibilities it beholds. After 24 hours of idea paralysis, I’m now pulling myself together to begin some actual legwork on the idea. Who knows where it will lead? But all I know right now, is that I’ve gotta go deep with it.

At work, we’ve been working on a fun project about work-life balance and managing productivity. It’s quite ironic to be overwhelmed with content and information about work-life balance and maintaining a zen state with the chaos in my mind and head. However, I did learn something interesting about achieving goals. Some people (read: my husband) is the kind who keeps his goals to himself. He is secretive to a point of being obsessive. And then there’s people like me: who talk to a few people so I can hold myself accountable for it. It’s like the time I wanted to go to Italy, I told as many people as possible. And then I worked my butt off to get into the program or else, I’d have lost my face infront of all these people!

We humans are such complex and weird creatures.

Branded Content: Gucci vs. Burberry

Note: Older article from contentdecoded.com reposted here.

Picture 1A few weeks ago we applauded Burberry with its brilliant foray into social media and branded content with Art of the Trench. Today we chanced upon Gucci’s effort at being “social” and have to relate our extreme disappointment with the end result. Burberry did set the bar very high.

Gucci Eye Web is an ode to its line of sunglasses. (atleast we think it is) but it comes off as a poorly executed idea without any substance to it.

When you enter the site, it asks you to pick a city to explore the nightlife. Upon picking New York, you end up on a flash-heavy page with cliched music and a picture of rotating sunglasses at the center of the page. The sunglasses alternatively feature images of random people – I was hard pressed to understand how those people are connected to the Gucci brand. The site is also confusing: is it about nightlife ? Or about Gucci sunglasses? If it is indeed about Gucci Eyewear, why isn’t everyone in the “crowd-sourced” photographs wearing Gucci sunglasses?

Here are three reasons we think this Branded Content initiative by Gucci is epic fail.

  1. No solid positioning: There is no About page on the site or anything that gives the reader an idea of the purpose, mission or point of the site. Additionally, the directions are misleading. The three-stepped guide at the corner of the page tells the readers they can explore nightlife in particular city with no information about the city or nightlife! Was the idea to explore nightlife via the user-submitted photographs? But even then, how are zoomed in photographs of random people a way to explore nightlife? I can’t tell the difference between the photos from New York or Barcelona. They all look the same.
  2. No connectivity: The idea of “connect” on the Gucci EyeWeb is translated as share us with your friends. Gucci’s idea of experimenting with social media is cherry picking the themes they want to explore (let’s do crowdsourcing!) and then add social sharing buttons. This isn’t even Web 1.0.
  3. Exclusive does not mean brochures: The site offers users the ability to download exclusive content. Gucci’s version of exclusive content is a brochure with the product information about Gucci sunglasses and a link to the main site. A fashion blog offers more exclusive content than that. We are passionate about content and masking brochures and “saley” content as exclusive is not only in poor taste, but undermines the intelligence of the Gucci customer and brand enthusiast.

This criticism is grounded in the belief that while we commend brands for taking that proverbial step forward with social media, we hold them accountable for their sloppy execution. Had Gucci put a little more thought into this project, it would have been a different story altogether. For a luxury brand such as Gucci, allowing users to interpret the brand with their images is a commendable step towards embracing their fans and opening up the brand. And Gucci certainly gets points for that. But as a luxury brand, Gucci (and any other) is about exclusivity, integrity, heritage and class. While it may seem that most of social media themes (crowdsourcing, massclusivity, transparency, casual-ness etc.) are diametrically opposite of what luxury brands stand for, the real challenge for luxury brands is going to be to figure out how to interpret these social media themes in the context of their own brand.

The Art of Trench coat is a lesson in sartorial elegPicture 2ance and how it translates on the web. Visual poetry! In addition to accepting user photos (wearing the Burberry trench), Burberry has commissioned a handful of famous photogs including The Sartorialist, to add to this photo essay of sorts and celebrate the trench coat. This is one of the better branded content efforts I’ve seen in a long time. Hats off to Burberry.

Burberry’s Art of the Trench has it’s own flaws – for example, how does the site plan on ensuring repeat visits? But the reason Gucci and other luxury brands need to be a little careful with social media-branded content executions is that for every Gucci, there will be a Burberry. – a competing brand that will have executed an idea just a little better. And that has tremendous intangible benefits in social media.

A few thoughts on the iPad

There have been a few dismissals of the iPad. My Facebook feed was flooded for a few hours last night with friends calling the iPad an exaggerated version of the iPhone. While that judgement may not be far off the mark, I am personally quite excited for the iPad and the potential impact it can have on the content publishing worlds. So a few things off the top of my head:

New Markets – I think the main thing the iPad will do is unlock new markets and underserved audiences. I’m thinking my 50-yr old Mom or my 5 year old niece. The broad applicability and price points of this device will fill the niche for readers who want more than just books on their device and computer users who want a scaled down version of their PC. I’m curious to see how existing publishers will optimize for these markets and the platform.

Content: I’ve head some very smart people talk and discuss “the medium is not the message” argument. While I am not sure I even understand the more academic discourses on this topic, one thing is clear to me. The medium may not be the message, but the medium will certainly dictate and push for innovation in the deliverance and creation of the message. Much like what the iPhone did with the application community. I think it will be interesting to see as the iPad technology evolves, what kind of new markets and industries it decides to support. The strongest advantage the iPad has against the Kindle (sorry Nook – I’m not even sure, I should include you here in the competition!) is its iTunes network.

Over a pizza discussion with the team the other day, Justin bought up an interesting POV. He mentioned how the future should actually have been convergence of technologies into one device – but the iPad actually fragments this convergence. What are your thoughts about this?

Update: This news article re-affirms my initial thoughts about the iPad’s target audience: the middle-aged.

Pause.

I know people come into our lives for a reason and then they leave. But sometimes, I just don’t want to meet people that are not going to be in my life permanently. :(

From a night owl to a morning person

I’ve developed a new habit – and I promise, it’s a good one. When in college, I poo-poohed at the working professionals who wanted to devote more time to their hobbies but claimed to be so busy with work that they found no time for their hobbies. Now, five years into the work force myself – I was slowly inching towards becoming one of those. There never is enough time. It’s not that I have no time – at the end of the work-day there are still four solid hours, or five if I’m feeling frisky to accomplish something. But by the end of the workday, my brain feels like warm jelly. Opaque and unable to process anything that needs an IQ above 50. Also, I just really enjoy being at home with R and cooking together or watching a movie together. The problem was – I had to priortize what I absolutely not give up and what I could live without. Here’s where I netted out – I need 8 hours of sleep. and I want to spend time with my R. But I could give up staying up at night in favor or squeezing in a few extra hours in the morning. Especially on weekends and holidays.

And I have to say, that’s been working out quite well for me.

For example, this past Monday. What a stroke of luck. My company was probably the only one that decided to honor Columbus Day and give us the day off. I had pretty much signed off for any days off after the Labor Day weekend so this was a delighful surprise. I scheduled an early, early morning meeting uptown with my mentor. And then spent the rest of the morning, exploring a new neighbourhood in New York. I spent two leisurely hours at the Columbus Circle Borders hungrily devoring the newest Dairy of a Wimpy Kid. I nestled myself in the History section and chuckled rather loudly at the incredible wisecracks of Greg Heffley, the wimpy hero. I also finally read, ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ and for a second wondered if the book was missing pages. I scratched my head thinking how Spike Jonze managed to make a movie out of this 3-paged book. Didn’t look like much of a story to me.

After my fantastic book-reading sojourn, I paid for :On Writing: by Steven King (at my writer friend’s recommendation) And while I may not be a fan of his writing, I admire his succcess. (And who doesn’t want success of THAT sort!) I ambled around aimlessly on Madison Avenue for a while wondering about the sudden influx of chimmey-smoking Europeans. And then I heard… Oy Mambo, Mambo Italiano… on a loudspeaker. Turns out, it was some sort of a Italians in America parade. What a pity – because there were barely any people on the streets watching the parade.

Anyways, before cabbing it to my eye-doc’s appointment – I stared for a bit at the carefully orchestrated art-like exhibit in the windows of a Judith Lieber showroom. The windows were outfitted with brightly colored lights and when they fell on a diamond-encrusted clutch, it reminded me of an ancient Studio 54 crystal ball photo I had once seen.

By the time I returned home, I felt so accomplished! I’d started my morning with a very inspiring conversation, read two books at Borders, window-shopped and explored a new neighborhood in New York AND got my new contact lenses.

These days, I can’t stay up beyond midnight and I’m so okay with that. :)

Sometimes

.. in my dreams, I see worlds created out of muted images and photographs that I must have  seen or admired on the web.

But in my dreams, they look eerie. Like they’ve been brushed with thunder, a melting sun and sorrowful blues.

I get by with a little help from my friends

In a very Beatles mood these days. Last night, I had a wonderful call with a very good friend of mine. Infact, she was my first friend in New York and to this day, remains a strong inspiration for me. We started our careers together as interns for InStyle magazine. Our desks were next to each other. We bonded over being broke, sharing lunches and beauty products! My first summer in New York was beautiful because I had found a true friend in her.

She worked in the NY publishing industry for a bit – got published a few times in the New York Times but when the call came, she packed her bags and moved back to her suburban home town in middle America. Yes. After spending six years in New York, she had the balls to say yes to an idyllic (but make no mistakes – her little town has its own quirks and challenges!) life in Pennsylvania and devote herself to her one true love. Writing. Such an inspiration! She nudged me, as only a friend can, in the right track and here I am. Deviating, re-inventing myself again and perhaps, answering my call.

Thank you, A.

Waiting eagerly for 2010

I am three full months early to make this proclamation but I am so ready for this year to be over. Personally, it was a very fulfilling year. Even professionally, my growth has been uncharted.  But creatively, I’ve never felt this empty before.

Writing is a difficult passion to sustain. It’s like I’ve run out of stories. I can’t seem to think of interesting things to write about. I haven’t even been able to imagine anything interesting to write. My well is running dry. It’s like being a dancer and suddenly realizing that you are disenchanted with all the moves that there are. It’s like being an artist and struggling to find a scene you can paint because the ones you find, either lack luster or don’t hold your interest for long. Or a photographer, who can’t find a frame good enough to shoot. Does this feeling have a name?

Also on the web and on Facebook – I never quite know how much to share and how much to hide. Is it weird to talk about my wedding? Is it weird to always talk about professionally interesting topics? Exactly what facets of myself do I hide and reveal? Really. Life was simpler with the anonymous blogger accounts.

I’ve almost given up on amassing any creative wealth this year. Sometimes I revisit the dog-eared, yellowing pages of a haphazard but a free creative mind and I shock myself at the intensity and beauty of the prose that a ‘younger’ me had written in the past. And maybe in hindsight, an ‘older and wiser’ me will realize that the frustration, impatience and general lack of direction I’ve felt this year was perhaps, just a pause in time. A much needed pause to understand and then articulate this insanely beautiful year. Where is Sam when I need him ? That’s exactly what he’d have said. Or something better.

Ahh. Anyways, with any luck – my creative spirit will find me before the year ends.

The Teen Vogue Brand

I just finished reading this insightful interview with Amy Astley, editor in chief of Teen Vogue. When I transitioned away from the magazine world into the digital realm in 2006, editors were just beginning to think about expanding the print versions of the magazine to the web. In less than three years, the survivor-magazines have not only built a sound web presence and personality, but also given a new meaning to the magazine business.

I recently had coffee with the publisher of a top women’s magazine and a part of the conversation that stayed with me. She made a comment about how ‘publisher’ is an archaic title for the role that in all reality is that of a chief brand officer and their responsibility is to think of the magazine as a brand, and not just a content property.

I was reminded of this conversation while reading Astley’s interview. Her vision for Teen Vogue is so precise. And she’s right, there’s not other way to articulate it than say that it is a sensibility and she builds a team of people who ‘get’ that sensibility.

The Teen Vogue brand outputs: reality show, events, CFDA/scholarship and even the new handbook released by Teen Vogue strengthen and further the brand story. I suppose it’s not all that new considering magazines have always supported events and causes that align with their brands.  Teen Vogue is bringing it closer to their readers though.

Just thought it was interesting enough to note.

Y Combinator’s Request for Startups: The future of content and journalism

I chanced upon Noah‘s link to Y Combinator’s Request For Startups. Both the RFS’s hit home with me and I thought I’d take a few minutes to pen down my thoughts.

1The Future of Journalism – This is such a loaded query. What indeed is the future of content ? More importantly, what is the future of content consumption? This particular RFS asks us to consider this question from a different perspective: how would this site make money. I don’t have the answer but there are several themes floating in my head that perhaps can make some sense when sewed together?

Setting expectations from the beginning: I’ve written in the past about social media expectations and how they are directly related to the future of any new business service in the social media space. (PS – Social media is not the same as social networking, although some rules still apply) In this post that I wrote a few months ago, I expounded on the premise that success often follows social networks or services that set the expectations from the very begining. Since the obvious goal here is to make money, the ideal content website would approach this by defining reader/user expectations before anything. I’d approach the build of such a site with a simple premise in mind: people will pay for content and service when they percieve value, so don’t focus on building a user-base first. Charge from the VERY begining. Case in point: Club Penguin, Moncole (web-only edition) etc.. Threadless, etc.

Multi-platform content? Content limited to browser? I think this is worth considering especially in light of new technologies. People are OK with paying the monthly subscription fee for blogs they can access for free otherwise on Kindle. Essentially, people are paying for mobility and for convenience. I think the future content site should be built with the idea of convenience and mobility at its core? It would be foolish to consider limiting a content site to just the browser. For those who still enjoy their ‘content’ in print, perhaps the idea here is to set up print-kiosks aroudn the world at airports and other major city-hubs that allow anyone to pick and choose articles they’d like to read on paper and simply hit the print button. Viola – the selected content is packaged into a magazine/newspaper, at a premium ofcourse. Literally turning the tables around. Case in point: magcloud, blurb, Mine magazine (not sure how successful the venture was, but definitely knocking on the future of content)

I also just read a very interesting article in this months’ Fast Company about multi-platform storytelling to be launched by Penguin and the creator of CSI. The idea here is to use books, video, games and several other platforms to tell a linear story. Perhaps the same model can be used for news/content?

Format: This area is so tricky. On one hand the success of sites liek Breakingnews and on the other there’s the chatter around the $100 billion hyper-local news industry that remains untapped. I am torn. I get my news from my “network” – whether that’s on Fbook or Twitter. I follow enough local friends to not feel out of loop and I follow enough strangers to know exactly whats up with the world. So I’m not so sure I’d want to pay for that. What I’d be willing to invest my time and money is long-form news and op-eds from incredibly smart people. Case in point: The Daily Beast and HuffingtonPost

I think that people like me generally approach content with this point of view: If it’s interesting, it will find me. So what would make someone like me ‘seek’ out and ‘pay’ for content?

As someone who started her career as a journalist, the future of content is very close to my heart and I’d love to hear your thoughts, ideas and things you are seeing in the marketplace.

Introduction to Perfumery by Anne McClain

photoThis is one of the most interesting things I’ve done in New York – last night I attended an Introduction to Perfumery class last night at Meet. Hosted by the beautiful and amazing Anne McClain, I walked out of the class with a completely new appreciation and understanding of fragrance.

Let me tell you a little about Anne McClain first. Anne is currently a student a school of perfumery in Grasse, France. In Sept 09, Anne will travel to San Miguel de Allende in Mexico and spend one week volunteering at the Casa de los Angeles, teaching art at a local day care center for children of single mothers. After this trip, Anne will return to Grasse to create the ‘Humanity’ scent, inspired from her experience in Mexico and the idea of compasion. In Spring 2010, this scent will be made available to the public by way of a fountain of perfumed water in Brooklyn, where Anne lives. It is an experiment, she says, in trying to bring a personal experience to a public space by means of fragrance.

Now if that is not inspiring, what is?!

I’ve always thought of perfumery to be an art that you get a more refined and sophisticated understanding of with more exposure and training….just like wine, cheese or cigars. In my own case I have graduated from wearing the more commercial, simpler fragrances to appreciating and wearing more complex scents or layering unusual combinations. Fragrance, also, as we all know has the power to evoke incredibly strong memories and transport you back to forgotten worlds. Last night was something like that.

What I love about Anne is her efforts and faith in making perfumery an accessible art. It is like painting or dancing, she says. You start with the basics and you can understand and learn enough to experiment on your own. I can tell you one thing: once you take this class with Anne, you will realize that all this while you had been staring at the world of perfumery from behind an opaque curtain. And now, it is transparent.

We started by sniffing Jasmine Grandiflorum, a type of Jasmine grown in India. Personally, I’m not a huge fan of  jasmine because it reminds me of sticky, greasy hair oil that my mom would insist on rubbing on my scalp when I was a kid. I hated hair oil and this particular Jasmine variety smells just like it. But it was interesting to me to hear other’s experiences and memories associated with this Jasmin.

After Indol (a synthetic ingredient that smells like mothballs!), we sniffed yet another Jasmine Sambac. This one – was much lighter on the nose and reminded me of the scent of ‘gajras-’ little flower garlands that Indian women use as adornment for their hair. A few other raw ingredients we sniffed last night are Geranium, Citronella (a synthetic ingredient used in rose-based fragrances to give it more bullk) Patchouli (cool fact: patchouli oil is made of 144 chemicals and hence, near impossible to replicate) Sandalwood, Bacdanol (the synthetic equivalent of sandalwood) Adoxal (a synthetic ingredient that is used to create the marine smell. This ingredient had a very salty smell) Essential Rose Oil (It was disgusting! Which is so surprising considering most of my perfumes have rose top notes)

My favorite part was the later half of the ingredients – the warmer, woodsy ones used mostly in men’s fragrances. I enjoy mixing my feminine fragrances with just a dash of my fiance’s colognes. I feel like men’s fragrances add a litlte more substance and perhaps just a little bit of darkness and mystery that I enjoy. We started with sniffing Ambroxan, a synthetic equivalent of Amber. I had never questioned where Amber came from… for some reason assuming the scent came from a stone, but yesterday I was shocked and a little grossed out to learn that amber actually comes from whales. I will spare you exactly how it is produced – click on the link to learn that. Thankfully, most fragrances use the synthetic equivalent of amber. Whew.

Anyways, Ambroxan smelled heavenly…it smelled secure, sexy and like an aphrodisac. Another lovely ingredient we sniffed as Cashmeron. I think Anne described it beautifully when she said that Cashmeron smells of a handsome man walking in the woods, with a scarf around his neck. In my version of the scent, it is Hugh Jackman in his sexy greek god-like demeanor. Sigh. Just the thought. :P

I also learned that contrary to Sephora, coffee is not the best smell to sniff to clear your nose. Just fresh air. So if you are out perfume shopping, walk out of the store to clear your nose memory and walk back in a few minutes later. Another intereting fact – the best place to wear perfume is your hair! It stays the longest there and not on your pulse as you might beleive it.

So anyways – THANK YOU Anne. You have found a lifelong student in me! And if any of you are interested in hosting a perfume workshop for your girl-friends, get in touch with Anne!

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Playing with Shadows and Light

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I had a very Enid Blyton-esque weekend trip to Storm King over the long weekend. It’s a five-hundred acre open-air art museum just outside of New York. We picked a good day to visit because it wasn’t very crowded. At one point, we even wondered if we were the only ones there. The entire landscape is punctuated by modern sculptures that I really struggled to understand. Art is subjective – and I don’t yet have a very refined sense of it.

But we did have a wonderful picnic of fresh mangoes, Comte cheese, bread and plum tomatoes! Also, we walked right through Maya Lin’s Bodies of Water exhibit which was, simply put, brilliant. Lin’s exhibit reminded me of the pastoral, flowing hills of Tuscany. This might as well be a tiny Tuscan replica. Although it did look better from a distance.

Sculptures make me think. Most of time, I wonder about what was going through the artists mind and what this piece signifies. It is important to me that art stands for something – that it makes a statement. I suppose, it is also important to me that ordinary folks should be able to understand it and the metaphor it represents. It doesn’t have to be world-changing, but at the very least – its gotta have substance and make me think or feel something intense. And Maya Lin’s Bodies of Work was intense, for me.

I’ve been thinking a lot of about art and especially the phrase, “A picture paints a thousand words.” – or however it is that the saying goes. I attended a Pecha Kucha a few months ago where my favorite-st artist, Jonathan Harris, presented his work, “Whale Hunt” I had seen this project before online and it’s been passed around and written about quite a lot. But I’d never heard him actually present it, explain it or tell the story around it.
I listened with rapt attention as he narrated his experience with the aid of the photographs. As he spoke about the cold, as he told us how it takes the entire village to pull out the whale and how the certain parts of the whale are more prized than the rest. His words, his storytelling actually gave the project a lot more perspective and depth than simply exploring the photographs. Not sure if anyone else felt that way, but I did.

Anyways, back to StormKing – it was comforting to be away fro the city and surrounded by a carpet of green. I’m also sharing a few pictures – with people in them. (I don’t know how many people actually enjoy photos of scenery without people in them – I don’t!) Be kind though. I’d be very upset if these photos turned up photo-shopped somewhere else on the net. :) Jk.
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Cancun, Mexico

When: November 2008 (5 Days)

The Infinity Pool & Beyond at ME by Mel

I’ve probably lost the more colorful details to time and memory.  But here’s a short account of my first time in Mexico.
I visited Cancun with my sister and a close friend during the 2008 Thanksgiving. We were cautious and a little reluctant of going to Cancun because of its strong association with spring break. But any reservations we had about finding a remixed spring-break version of Cancun flew out of the window the minute we stepped into our swanky hotel, Me by Melia. We joked that the hotel wasn’t meant for single girls with no beaus. It’s flamboyant design, colors, abundance of flimsy fabric and a very generous sprinkling of outdoor beds, coupled with the kind of music and staff (read: hot; young; doable) you’d find at a Sex & The City party, made it ripe for, excuse the brutality, mating.
Because we were visiting during a low-tourist month, we were spared the torture that came in-built with these fashion-y hotels . (Although, Sunday morning saw throngs of hot, wealthy Mexican men and their girl-friends frolic in and around the Infinity Pool at the hotel)

There are three things that stand out to me about my time in Mexico:
1) Our trip to Chichen Itza – I insisted on this two hour trip outside of Cancun. The idea of being so close to one of the world’s old wonders tickled me pink. And also because baking on the beach is definitely not my idea of a vacation. What struck me most about Cancun was its organized tourism. I understand that perhaps the seasoned traveler might not want the organization and might actually prefer a slightly more rugged, “authentic” experience. But for three single girls, we couldn’t have asked for a safer city to vacation in.

ChichenItza a shoddy photo, but the structure is quite magnificent.

We booked our trip to Chichen Itza with our American Express Concierge the night before. (Some other time, I will write about the joys of traveling with an American Express umbrella)

At 8am the next morning, a bus picked us up below our hotel and took us to a central meeting point where hundreds of tourists from other hotels on the strip were convened. Around 9am, the tour operators began dividing us by our destination and assigned us our bus number.  It took us about two hours to get to Chichen Itza. On our way, we made a forty-minute stop at a Cenote. (Cenote / Sinkhole is an under-ground water pool) We weren’t carrying our swimsuits so we wandered around the Cenote instead of jumping into the pool with some of the other tourists. But I remember a distinct feeling of coolness and general well-being wrap around me when we stepped into the cave that housed the Cenote. We people-watched for a little while – mostly little kids who without a care in the world nose-dived into the crystal clear waters of the Cenote and lapped around happily in the waters.

After a quick lunch (limited vegetarian choices; and a tepid “Mayan” dance performance) we made it to the ruins around 1pm. Chichen Itza is breathtaking. That Mayan warriors and poets walked on the same dirt roads I was standing on left me bewildered. Our guide narrated stories of the Mayan culture and what I loved most about his narration was his emphasis on the fact that the Mayans were like any other civilization. It’s reputation as being one of the most advanced, magically endowed and intelligent civilizations was true for almost all others, according to our guide. He said, just like in our society, the Mayan’s had their top doctors, top economists, top leaders – but it also had regular folks that whose only concern were the daily bread. He was clearly upset at popular culture’s depiction of the Mayan culture.

The mid-afternoon sun on the bland, dessert-like terrain was scorching. We wandered around in search for shade and napped on a lonely tuft of cool grass we found. Unfortunately for us, the officials had stopped allowing tourists to climb the ruins only a few months ago to preserve them. So we could only admire, not touch. We flirted a bit with the rules but were too chicken to break them.

The grounds were also infested with barefoot, snotty-nosed children selling cheap cotton hand-kerchiefs with Mayan motifs. In an uncharacteristic wave of kindness, we decided to buy one of the kids an ice-cream. But he bought five other friends, and we end up buying ice-cream for them all. I was both ashamed and happy – the scene isn’t any different at tourist destinations in India and I’d be hard-pressed to entertain them there. I suppose I excused myself because they were Mexican.

2) Snorkeling with the fishes – Done with our history lesson for the trip,  the next day we rented a motor-boat and followed our guide twenty miles into the middle of the ocean. We parked our boat, put on oxygen masks and flappy fins on our feet. And when it was time to jump into the ocean, we hesitated. (Not my sister though – she was already paddling around in the water, her head submerged, tickling the fishies) I am scared of water and not a confident swimmer – at all. At our guide’s insistence (and then tough love) I finally jumped but began screaming the minute I realized that there was no security of ground beneath my feet. We were a good thirty feet above ground. But as I realized that I wasn’t sinking, I felt bravado return into my body. Adrenaline pulsed through me and I felt invincible.

Underwater, a muffled silence enveloped me. The fishes were moving in perfect synchronicity and the corals swayed as if their every move had been orchestrated to the last detail. I felt coltish when a fish grazed past me and I jumped every time I felt its slippery, cold scaly skin on my bare legs. It was fantastically weird.

On our return trip, I manned our little motor-boat and relished the power buzzing through me, propelling the boat forward. There are no signals and roads on the oceans, and if you are lucky, no traffic either. I zig-zagged as I pleased, leaving behind bold tendrils of white waves in my wake. It was a power-trip like no other. Back at the hangar, we changed out of our wet swim-suits, showered and taxied back home.

Our scrumptious Thai Dinner -two nights in a row!

3) Thai food! (yes!) – Dining in Cancun was one of most surprising and delightful experiences we had. Twice in a row, we ended up at the same Thai restaurant by the ocean. It’s alfresco dining reminded me of Bombay. And it was hands down, the best Thai food I have ever had. (Even better than Jaiya Thai in NYC!) On our last night though, against the wishes of our concierge, we ventured out into the “city” for a taste of authentic Mexico. (Btw, there is no such thing as authentic Mexico in Cancun) Downtown Cancun was a square mile of cacophony of typical bars, strip malls and tourist shops. We ventured into what could be the dollar store version of Cancun – it was larger than the ground floor of Macy’s on 34th street. Although we didn’t buy anything, Mexicans have a flair for making cheeky souvenirs.

And that was our very PG-13 trip to Cancun! I could bore you with the ins-and-outs; how to get there and back; and other details, but that’s frankly, not very interesting to write about so you’ll just have to rely on Google and Tripadvisor :)

Have a safe trip home

I love this so much that I have to share it every possible way with everyone I know. This is a topic so dear to me, and so close to me that its amazing to see other talented people explore it – all across the world.

Dido asked film directors across the world to create video pieces/ short films on what their idea of what home means to them, using a song from her new album, ‘Safe Trip Home.’

The resulting montage of videos, emotions, moods and explorations of what home means to people of all ethnicities, cultures and beliefs – is nothing short of brilliant. Colorful, vibrant, poignant — I have felt twenty-five different emotions in the last 15 minutes alone as I waded through this pool of rich, feelings.

I love this – also because it is so close to my heartfelt project, ‘Dsplaced,‘  The collective storytelling experiment that I launched with my friend Mansi to do just that – explore people’s relationship with their cities, and the idea of what home and memories mean to people.

You have to take 10 minutes out of your day and spend it immersed in this site. If you have ever wondered about the significance of home, or displacement – you will lvoe the site. And of the hundreds of stories shared, I am sure you will find the one you most relate to.

Here’s one from Mumbai that I love – please enjoy it and pass the word around. And if you would like to share your story, do it here, dsplaced.com

Why mobile marketing is more successful in India

This is a very simplistic argument, but hear me out.

When I moved into my new apartment, I subscribed to a bunch of Indian Television Channels via Direct TV. The channels I receive are MTV India, Star Plus, Star One, Star News, NDTV and some spiritual channel and a cricket channel. Needless to say, much of my free time this weekend was spent channel surfing. I am so used to the American TV shows and watching American Television that I watch these Indian channels with a renewed sense of purpose.

What strikes me most is the blatant sponsorship, advertising and marketing in every single game or reality. Here is just a sampling of the shows that not only have major product placement and sponsored sections during the duration of the show, but also carry a brand name in their titles.

Hero Honda Roadside Roadies, Pepsi Wassup: The voice of Youngistan, Miranda Kickass Mornings, Hero Hondo Sa Re Ga Ma Pa, LG Mobile Oye its Friday, Garnier Nach Baliye…. and that’s just a sampling. In dance-based reality shows, the contestants are filmed spouting out brand names and asking the audiences to vote for them. Bollywood celebrity endorsements are a new rev-generating industry for celebrities in itself. To a point, where a single celebrity represents 5 or more brands! Even bollywood movies – case in point, Chandani Chowk to China, was advertised in reality shows, with brands – and anywhere else possible.

The point I am trying to make is – Indian television and culture has accustomed Indian consumers to expect advertisements and blantant, in-your-face sponsorships.

Next point – Americans have a deeper sense of privacy and a concept of space. Indians are used to the concept of no space – jostling through crowds, shoving through vegetable markets and sharing the a small 2 bedroom house with 8 other people is commonplace for them.

And lastly, mobile is accessible. and cheap in India. This is one technology that has deeply peneterated the rural regions as well.

So you combine these three factors: 1) Indians are not mad at advertisters. They expect advertisements. 2) Indians, at large, do not place top priority on privacy or a sense of space. and lastly, 3) Mobile is cheap  — and I have come to believe, that this is why mobile marketing and mobile campaigns are so successful in India and not so sucecssful in America.

I know – I told you it was a simplistic hypotheses, but it starts there. I’ll see what I can dig up to supprt and prove this hypotheses.

The graduating classes of 2009

I read this article expounding on the generational bad luck that the graduates of 2009 face ahead. With the economy in shambles, the graduating class also unfortunately face the terror of entering the real world: without the certainty or stability of a full-time job. The article also quotes a research study that ‘suggests  that the negative impact on earnings of first entering the labor force amidst a recession lasts anywhere from ten years to forever. And that’s research based on relatively mild recessions.”

Applying Malcolm Gladwell’s Outlier rule to this graduating generation, does it mean that those born in 86-87 have less of a statistical chance of becoming successful or reaching their zenith ? (Definition of ‘successful’ is relative)

From a simpler time

I was warned about the pollution. The traffic. The noises. Malaria. Culture Shock. But I wasn’t warned enough about the blissful state of contentment and joy that would envelop me. Everytime I return back to Bombay, my city and I instantly recognize each other and without exchanging a single word or gesture, we become one again.

Old habits resurfaced naturally: bargaining, yelling at the ricksahwalla who tried to cheat me, conversing in marathi with my neigbors and ignoring the smut-faced innocent eyed children who follow you around begging for one rupee. It took me less than a day to re-introduce myself to *my* Bombay. (My version of Bombay which begins and ends at the peripheries of Andheri to Bandra/ Mahim. Thats the Bombay I know and love.)

Cultural and structural changes aside, I was most struck by the amount of free-flowing disposable income everyone has in Bombay now. A night out at Blue Frog and we (6 of us) easily spent in excess of 10,000 rupees. And the next morning, I visited my fathers factory where Shivaji, who has been with my father’s firm for over 16 years still makes only 6,000 rupees a month. This sort of irnoy bothered me throughout my time there.

The salesguy at a silk store in Bombay showed me over 100 dresses, one after another, in colors, fabrics, cuts and styles that I requested. Tired and famished, when I finally asked him to stop he replied, “But Madam, I am not tired yet! Let me show you more.!” My total bill amounted to some 15,000 rupees – a paltry sum for me, but his salary for 3 months.

I suppose you could call me the rosy-eyed phoren return girl who acted, felt and behaved in a fashion that is very predictable of such folks. But that is not true. These juxtapositions have always been ingrained in the fabric of Bombay. What Bombay didn’t have before in such surplus quantities were the financially and culturally progressive youth. My middle-class society has not spent money with so much abandon before and that took me in by surprise.

Anyways.

I am back now. Energized. Happy and excited for the new year. My priorities are foccussed and what I want to do this year is finely aligned with the kind of person I want to be by the end of this year. And here’s hoping the same for you.

Almost home

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My empty house and my almost-furnished home. I still baffle myself with my idea of home.
I watched a random video on youtube this evening where Rahul Bose (Actor extraordinaire) spoke about Bombay. And it resonates so deeply with me. I was nodding in agreement the whole time I was watching the video. There is no one Bombay. Like there is no one Philadelphia or New York. Each of us have our own dimensions of what makes a city, MY city. Suburban Bombayits that don’t travel to South Bombay, South Bombayites that don’t consider the burbs Bombay. Lower East Siders who don’t “do” mid-town and Upper East Siders who dont’ do the tunnel and the bridge. We each of our own city.

I’m leaving for Bombay tomorrow. I’m returning to MY idea of Bombay but am hoping I can re-define it and add yet another piece to it. Don’t be surprised if you find my blog more personal, effusive and emotional than ever before. I have a guard on most of the time – here too. I’m hoping, returning back home will dispel it for me.

Dsplaced – An online storytelling experiment

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There is something about digital narratives. I spend countless hours on facebook everyday and marvel at the dazzling digiscape of human emotions, dreams and aspirations that paints and re-paints itself in form of text, visuals and videos within the Facebook confines each day. If the emotions expressed on facebook were visualized, it would quite beautifully capture a facet of humanity. Also, projects like a A thousand journals, PostSecret and We Feel Fine have inspired me tremendously to imagine further and think about how to capture and create a mosaic of human emotions online. And so, what better emotion to explore than Dsplacement?

Dsplacement is a word I associate with people who out of choice or force keep their concept of home fluid. I have been in love with the idea of exploring our relationships with cities, countries and the very idea of home. Personally for me, all three have changed several times and I expect them to continue changing for the next several years. I feel like, all this dsplacement has defined my sense of self and my identity. But I am curious to know how, if at all, it has impacted other people. And so, dsplaced.com

It is in a way an experiment in storytelling. The brevity and the levity of messages on Twitter and stories in 6-words amaze me and I wanted to bring  in a similar element to dsplaced.com. Because sometimes, less is more. Especially in this case.

So I teamed up with Mansi, a kindred soul like me, who I have never met in person yet and together, we launched Dsplaced. Thankfully for me, she shared the same frustrations and curiosities of being a digitally connected yet dsplaced.

I urge you to spread the word, to visit the site and submit your own story. I don’ t know how it will shape or how long it will stay alive on the web – but its almost meditative and healing to do this. To catalog these digital snippets of people’s minds that ultimately, in different words, tell teh same story.