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Things that caught my eye this week

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Carhartt Labor Day colouring book – the American workwear brand put together a great children’s colouring book for labor day weekend. It allows parents to explain what they do for their kids and provides an activity for a socially isolated public holiday. You can download your Carhartt Labor Day colouring book here.

Carhartt Labor Day colouring book

Vox Media have done a great video on rotoscoping and animation. Rotoscoping as a technique allowed animation to have life-like motion, but the creativity of animation.

I was introduced to rotoscoping with the Ralph Bakshi Lord of The Rings animated movie. Peter Jackson’s live action version borrowed from this version shot for shot, but I find the animated version more enthralling because of Bakshi’s use of rotoscoping.

Video shot from an original 35mm trailer print

Simon Peel of Adidas’ now famous speech that recommended a healthy skepticism on short term performance marketing and the impact of longer term brand marketing. He realises digital is important, but lays out why marketers should ask why? Peel talked honestly about marketing effectiveness, marketing efficiency and misleading metrics. I had read the articles, but this is the first time that I’d seen his talk. More on marketing effectiveness here.

IPA Eff Week talk 2019 by Simon Peel of Adidas

Microsoft had been experimenting with sealed underwater data centres to see if they were possible and what the benefits were. Prior to the project starting there would be some predetermined benefits:

  • Reduced energy costs as refrigeration wouldn’t be needed. (You could achieve a similar effect, if you buried the data centre deep enough)
  • Reduced data centre costs. Internet hotels and server farms can cost a lot if built in cities with expensive real estate

But there were questions over corrosion, damage and reliability. Microsoft got around corrosion by filling a submerged data centre with a nitrogen atmosphere. They found that a data centre without human intervention had much less faults than a matching data centre on-shore.

Microsoft are now working on how the end of life process would work for an underwater data centre.

Microsoft’s Natick project on underwater data centres
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Gaming the charts

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Gaming the charts has been going on for decades. Economist Tyler Cowen documented how prosecutions in the US for what was called payola started in the 1950s in his book: In Praise of Commercial Culture. Prior to this the process for the charts was opaque at best. It destroyed the career of radio DJ Alan Freed, who helped pioneer the rock and roll sound. American Bandstand presenter Dick Clark almost had a similar fate. Clark sold a stake in a record company and turned snitch for the authorities.

Over time labels relied on legal promotional means to radio stations. Here’s what KLF’s The Manual had to say about them circa 1988:

Your plugger. The man responsible for getting the nation to hear your record. From now on in this man will undoubtedly be the most important person in the jigsaw. Without his faith, vision and understanding of the fastest lane in this particular rat race, you will be nowhere.

So go with the plugger that’s got the faith, vision and understanding – indefinable qualities – but you will know within five minutes of meeting them if they have it. Top grade bull is something else they should have.

The plugger will try and explain what his job is. Each of them view their role differently but all must be able to deliver the following:

1. Concrete advice on what has to be brought out on your record for him to be able to do his job.

2. Appointments with Radio One producers where he is able to get them to listen to your record under the most favourable light.

3. Advice and help in putting together a video that will be acceptable for children’s television and a lead on some of the hungry young video makers who are out there.

Money and pluggers. They will want a lot and when your record starts happening pluggers will want more. Scott [The KLF’s plugger] wanted a thousand pounds to start working the record and then all sorts of bonuses related to our record reaching certain positions on the charts. We had to pay him five grand altogether once it had made Number One. He had a lot of costs and his team worked flat out for it, but we had to give him the first thousand the day of release. We had a couple of months to pay the other four. Anybody who can do it much cheaper won’t be much good.

The KLF – The Manual – How to Have a Number One Hit the Easy Way

Plugging services also worked with club DJs to get their artists in club play charts. When I used to send returns to these charts I used to receive ‘promotional copy’ records from promo agencies. Some of them were good, some indescribably bad. One of the agencies I used to get material from was IRP; my contact there Lohan Presencer went on to become executive chairman of the Ministry of Sound Group.

With the rise of hallyu and online voting you saw early breakout artists like the Wonder Girls galvanise fans and home and abroad to get them on to the likes of Disney Radio in the US.

Miles Guo
Miles Guo cover art – which makes the thing even slightly more surreal.

Now it seems political activism has merged with the art of plugging. Miles Guo, a critic of the Chinese government based in New York has provided the vocals and money behind ‘Take Down the CCP‘. It feels like the Team America soundtrack, but without the irony.

It went to number one on the iTunes download chart in three countries on the one day America, Canada and Australia (you need to make an allowance for the international date line, so Australia appears on September 11th, rather than 10th). It has all the hallmarks of a coordinated promotion. The reduced prominence of downloads versus streams obviously paid a part in their chart choice. Promotions of streams are structurally very different, with playlists along genres being much more important; so for Guo it would be much harder in terms of gaming the charts. Gaming the charts for streaming does happen; but with more conventional agendas. More music related posts here.

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ICYMI | 万一你错过了| 당신이 그것을 놓친 경우에 대비해서

Reading Time: 2 minutes

When Chinese State Security police knocked on ABC journalist Bill Birtles’ door, he realised he was no longer safe in China – ABC News – interesting how business and finance reporting has been hard for the past few years. Which is one of the reasons why scandals like Luckin Coffee happen. Chinese state security is incompatible with the kind of transparency needed for good business reporting. More on Luckin Coffee here.

Mulan’s official Chinese poster advances a nationalist agenda — Quartztweaked its posters, fascinating run through he symbolism

Minitel: The Online World France Built Before the Web – IEEE SpectrumFor a generation of French citizens, Minitel wasn’t about hardware, switches, or software. It was about the people they chatted with, the services they used, the games they played, and the advertisements for these services they saw in newspapers and on billboards. Many of the services that we associate with the Web had predecessors in Minitel. Before there was Peapod, there was 3615 TMK (Tele-Market), a service that enabled Parisians to order groceries for same-day delivery. Before there was Cortana or Siri, there were Claire and Sophie, services that provided personalized information using natural-language interfaces. Before there was Ticketmaster, there was Billetel. And before there was telebanking, there was Minitel banking

Brand Equity May Be Auto Industry’s Biggest AI Risk | CLS StrategiesThe AI Risk Index reflects a substantial gap between what is intended and what is perceived by critical stakeholders. The results are stark—especially in the context of substantial investment and many more years of public scrutiny as AI is improved—and reveal a growing crisis of trust. Though an average of 62% of Americans are familiar with companies in the transportation industry, only 35% have a positive opinion of them (compared to 43% for non-automotive manufacturing and 41% for retail companies) and only 37% trust them (compared to 44% for manufacturing and retail companies). Even more concerning is that the transportation companies most heavily involved in AI technology drive this sense of distrust, more so than traditional carmakers. That may explain why only three out of eight transportation companies analyzed during the third quarter of 2018 mentioned advancements in AI at all—indicating that auto companies are either communicating poorly or not communicating at all.

Amazon’s profits, AWS and advertising — Benedict Evans – interesting analysis of where Amazon makes it’s money

Strategic Management: Evaluation and Execution – Table of Contents – great book available in the creative commons

BlackBerry Is Planning a Comeback. For Some, It Never Left | WIRED – a bit like me and Nokia feature phones LOL. On a more serious note you see this kind of loyalty on lots of diminished, but distinctive brands. SAAB would be the classic poster child

2007 forever – The Magic iPod – resurrecting AplusD type mashup culture

Facebook May Be Ordered to Change Data Practices in Europe | New York TimesFacebook is facing the prospect of not being able to move data about its European users to the United States, after European regulators raised concerns that such transfers do not adequately protect the information from American government surveillance. – this comes under the Irish data commissioner. More here – Facebook Fights Irish Privacy Watchdog’s Data-Transfer Curbs – Bloomberg

Human values: understanding psychological needs in a digital age – BBC R&D – really interesting work done by BBC Research and Development that could be applied to site and app design

Douyin, China’s TikTok, permanently bans live-streamer who verbally harassed young women on the streets | South China Morning Post