Out and about: Sicario 2: Soldado

I was a big fan of Denis Villeneuve’s Sicario. It conveyed the monotony and horror of the war on drugs really well. Taylor Sheridan crafted a taunt storyline, you had great actors in Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin and Jeffrey Donovan as Brolin’s foil. Alejandro Gillick as a character played really well to Benicio del Toro signature mix of pathos and violence. The music was the film’s unsung character that turned out a virtuoso performance. Jóhann Jóhannsson’s soundtrack carried a lot of the weight in the film with its dark dissonant ambience. It was in many respects a modern day spaghetti western in the grand tradition of Sergio Leone and Sergio Corbucci.

Sicario 2: Soldado had a lot to live up too. Denis Villeneuve handed over directorial reins to Stefano Sollima: one of Italy’s best crime film directors. Sollima kept close to Villeneuve’s style from the previous film. Jóhann Jóhannsson was replaced on soundtrack duties by Hildur Guðnadóttir. This wasn’t due to Jóhannsson’s deadly cocaine overdose in Berlin; but a decision by the director to recruit an entirely new team.

She went from playing cello on the first film soundtrack to taking over the composition and performance of Sicario 2. Guðnadóttir kept a similar formula in the soundtrack, all be it with an even harder edge to the film. Most of the main players are back the exception of the FBI agents from the first film. Given the ending of the first film where Gillick made it clear to the Emily Blunt character that she wasn’t morally flexible enough. Sheridan Taylor takes on writing duties again.

Plus points
  • Matt Craver (Josh Brolin) and Steve Forsing (Jeffrey Donovan) chewing the fat, in classic spaghetti western cornball dialogue; that reminds me a lot of the

Nice day for a drive ha?

Aww, beautiful day. Blue skies, large calibre weapons. I love getting out of the office.

  • The film starts with a grand vision that feels very zeitgeist with illegal immigration being front-and-centre
  • The film does action exceedingly well. The assassination, kidnapping, bombings and shootouts are all incredibly well choreographed
Minus points

The Plot, the plot and oh did I mention the plot? ***Spoilerish ahead***

  • At the beginning of the film it paints a big canvas as the film moves from the border, Kansas city, Somalia, Djibouti and Washington DC over the first half hour. This grant vision fizzles out
  • The plot lacks morality centred in one person like the first film and the director compressed with the story arc. So that leads to….
  • Character inconsistencies. del Toro’s character Alejandro Gillick kills a cartel leader, his wife and his kids at the dinner table at the height of the first film. In Sicario 2; the film hinges on him having a massive change of heart and going soft. Matt Craver’s ‘the end justifies the means’ viewpoint suddenly goes soft, when he is required to have a cartel leader’s child killed
  • Plot logic: they are obviously going after the head of the Reyes cartel, with a view to understanding the organisation structure and operational methods. They are keen to find key decision makers. They find one and then abruptly drop it. Maybe it was editing and what we are seeing is a film pared down into just over two hours in duration
  • A weak flip-flopping president who is concerned that the deaths of corrupt Mexican federal police officers will impact his standing amongst 50 million Hispanic voters. In sharp contrast to signing off on covert action just a short time before to combat foreign terrorists using people smuggling rat lines to get into the US. Chances are he’s probably already screwed by his law-and-order stance a la Trump
  • Injuries that should have caused nasty disfigurement, don’t
  • The weak ending that is obviously setting up a franchise a la Marvel. That’s if Marvel allowed itself to go as dark as say Garth Ennis’ interpretation of The Punisher

I felt divorced from this film rather than numb from the grimness of the original. It’s hard to maintain power and impact, but Sicario 2 had so many doors that it could have gone through with the start of the plot, that the last half of the film felt like a cop out.

In summary

Modern day narco spaghetti western Sicario 2: Soldado is faithful to the original. It has bags of style and the kind of kinetic experience that you’d forget. A worthy successor to the original film with the exception of a story line that fizzles out and then comes back at the end to set up a Marvel-type franchise. Sicario 2 won’t have me watching it several times in the way that the original film did. I just hope that this is the movie making equivalent of a difficult second album and Sicario 3 will raise the bar again. Maybe hand the reins back to Denis Villeneuve and support Taylor with a writing team that will collaborate and challenge him to do better with the story, rather than the reductive process that Sicario 2 seems to have gone through. Stefano Sollima’s admitted as much in an interview with the Hollywood Reporter

We condensed the script’s narrative arc in order to preserve and pronounce the soul of the movie. The script was a bit wider in scope at first. Then, we organically pit the two lead characters [played by Benicio del Toro, Josh Brolin] against each other, something that wasn’t present in the first draft. Story-wise, I felt it was a really important and interesting turning point

The influencer post

Mark Ritson wrote an op-ed over at Marketing Week on influence. Whilst it lacked nuance on the subject area, a lot of what it said is true. Go over and have a read; I’ll be waiting for when you come back.

Whilst I disagree on the finer points, what Ritson wrote needed to be said. There needed to be a turning of the tide on influencers from boundless optimism to a greater degree of sobriety and critical analysis of the influencer opportunity.

I first noticed this boundless optimism when I attended the In2 Innovation Summit in May last year.  Heather Mitchell on a panel. Mitchell worked at the time in Unilever’s haircare division where she is director, head of global PR, digital engagement and entertainment marketing. I asked the panel discussing influencer marketing about the impact of zero-based budgeting (ZBB) and the answer was ducked. ZBB requires a particular ROI on activity, something that (even paid for) influence marketing still struggles to do well.

This was surprising given the scrutiny that other marketing channels were coming under, I couldn’t understand how influencer marketing merited that leap of faith.

This time last year I noted:

Substitute ‘buzz marketing’ for ‘influencer marketing’ and this could be 15 years ago. Don’t get me wrong I had great fun doing things like hijacking Harry Potter book launches when I worked at Yahoo!, but no idea how it really impacted brand or delivered in terms of RoI. Influencer marketing seems to be in a similar place.

Just five years ago we had managed to get past the hype bubble of social and senior executives were prepared to critically examine social’s worth. In the meantime we have had a decline in organic reach and massive inflation in both ad inventory and influencer costs. What had changed in the marketers mentality?

Onward with Mark Ritson’s main points.

Ritson’s Three Circles of Bullshit

A very loose reference to Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy trilogy; but for modern marketers

The First Circle of Bullshit: Are the followers real?

  • Are they bots?
  • Are they stolen accounts?
  • Are the user accounts active any more?
  • Has the account holder padded their account with bought followers and engagement. Disclosure – I ran an experiment on my Twitter account and still have a substantial amount of fake followers. More on this experiment here.

The Second Circle of Bullshit: Are influencers trusted?

  • Ritson did an unscientific test that showed (some) influencers would post anything for a bit of money

The Final Circle of Bullshit: Do they have influence?

  • Some influencers are genuinely authoritative; but this is a minority of influencers out there
  • Ritson alludes to the lack of organic reach amongst an ‘influencers’ followers which is likely to be 2% reach or less
Trends in influence

I looked at Google Trends to see what could be learned in the rate of change in searches over time. Consider Google Trends to be an inexact but accessible measure of changes in interest over time.

Global interest in influencers have been accelerating

Influence: Google Trends

There has been a corresponding rises in interest around paid influencer marketing

Influence: Google Trends

There hasn’t been the same interest peak in organic (PR-driven) influencer work

Influence: Google Trends

All of which supports the following hypotheses:

  • it’s become on-trend from the perspective of marketers, agencies and ‘influencers’
  • A significant amount of influencers are in it for the money – which brings into question their (long term authority and consumer trust)
  • A significant amount of influencers have an exceedingly good idea of their value (more likely overly-inflated)
  • Ego is less of a motivator for becoming an influencer than material gains
What would influence look like?

Propagation of the content by real people. Instagram, a particularly popular influencer channel, has made sharing posts difficult for followers historically. Re-gramming was a pain in the arse for the average Instagram user.

Slide4

If we look at the mainstream media and how it is shared on Facebook we see that only five media brands are consistently in the top ten most shared media properties. ‘Traditional’ influencer status isn’t necessarily a garrantor of consistent successful propagation either, if Newship’s data is to be believed.

Attributed sales. Some luxury brands in China have had success collaborating with influencers and selling through their channels; the post child being Mr Bags collaboration with Longchamps.

How is the best way to use influencers in marketing?

Assuming that you are using influencers in the widest possible sense at the moment.

Treat the majority of influencers as yet another advertising format

That means that reach, the way the brand is presented, and repetition are all important – smart mass marketing following the playbook of Byron Sharp.

  • Viewing your influencer mention in that prism, it means estimating what the real reach would be (lets say 2% of the follower number as an estimate) and paying no more on a CPM rate than you would pay for a display advertising advert
  • Ensure that the brand is covered in the way that you want. Some luxury brands have managed to get around this by keeping control of the content; a good example of this is De Grisogono – a family-run high jewellery and luxury watch brand. They work with fashion bloggers that meet their high standards and invite them to events. De Grisogono provides them with high-quality photography of its pieces and the event. They get the  high standard of brand presentation which raises the quality of the placement
  • Get repetition with the audience by repeating the placement with other content that delivers the same message with the same high standard of production

All of this might work for a luxury brand, IF you found that the amount of agency time and creative work made commercial sense. It is less likely to work for normal FMCG brands. What self-respecting influencer is going to be bossed around by a breakfast cereal?

Thinking about micro influencers, probably the area that has had the most interest from marketers recently due to them appearing to be better value than macro influencers.

Brown & Fiorella (2013) explanation of micro-influencers:

Adequately identifying prospective customers, and further segmenting them based on situations and situational factors enables us to identify the people and businesses – or technologies an channels that are closest to them in each scenario. We call these micro-influencers and see them as the business’s opportunity to exert true influence over the customer’s decision-making process as opposed to macro-influencers who simply broadcast to a wider, more general audience.

Brown & Fiorella focus on formal prospect detail capture and conversion.

This approach is more likely to work in certain circumstances; where there is low friction to conversion (e-tailing for discretionary value items).

It starts to fall apart when you deploy their approach to:

  • Consumer marketing
  • Mature product sectors
  • Mature brands

You would also struggle with many B2B segments where social provides a small reach and little social interaction.

Work with real influencers on long term collaborations
  • There is more likelihood of having audience trust if they can see and understand the long term relationship between a brand and its influencers
  • Better brand placement easier, with an influencer that ‘gets’ the brand
  • You’ve got a better chance of being able to get access and fully understand the underlying analytics of their accounts (which should be a prerequisite for long term relationship)
  • You can look at collaborations and attribution payment models that raise all boats
  • You can lock out rivals out of relationships
More information

Mark Ritson: How ‘influencers’ made my arse a work of art | Marketing Week
Edelman Digital Trends Report – (PDF) makes some interesting reading
Instagram Marketing: Does Influencer Size Matter? | Markerly Blog
Influence Marketing: How to Create, Manage and Measure Brand Influencers in Social Media Marketing by Danny Brown & Sam Fiorella ISBN-13: 978-0789751041 (2013)
Facebook Zero: Considering Life After the Demise of Organic Reach
Quantifying the Invisible Audience in Social Networks – Stanford University and Facebook Data Science
PLOS ONE: Detecting Emotional Contagion in Massive Social Networks by Lorenzo Coviello,Yunkyu Sohn, Adam D. I. Kramer,Cameron Marlow, Massimo Franceschetti, Nicholas A. Christakis, James H. Fowler
Senior Execs Not Convinced About Social’s Worth | Marketing Charts
Measuring User Influence in Twitter: The Million Follower Fallacy – Cha et al (2010) – (PDF)
Visualizing Media Bias through Twitter. Jisun An. University of Cambridge. Meeyoung Cha. KAIST. Krishna P. Gummadi. MPI-SWS et al – (PDF)
Mr. Bags x Longchamp: How to Make 5 Million RMB in Just Two Hours | Jing Daily
It’s time that we talk about micro-influencers

ICYMI | 万一你错过了| 당신이 그것을 놓친 경우

Troublesome advanced engines for Boeing, Airbus jets have disrupted airlines and shaken travelers | The Seattle Times – when you’re operating at the bleeding edge of materials and engineering. What’s interesting is the way the problems have assailed multiple engine builders at the the same time

Lost Liverpool #13: The Beat of Bold Street Part 2, the Mardi Gras and G-Love – Getintothis – wow I read this and it brought back a lot of memories. The closest thing to the legendary Shoom vibe in Liverpool. It was a different kind of crowd to what you saw at the Quadrant Park or even Garlands. G-Love at the Mardi Gras is what I’ve measured every club experience against since.

Crown, a new app from Tinder’s parent company, turns dating into a game | TechCrunch – yet another thing for incel subculture to complain about

Death of the landline? Why we are hanging up on the ‘home phone’ – Independent.ie

Encrypted Messaging Apps Have Limitations You Should Know | WIRED

Nike scores big in Chinese KOL competition | Campaign Asia – Nike is killing it

Five for Friday | 五日(星期五) | 금요일에 다섯 가지

Things that made my day this week>

I first knew of Hiroshi Fujiwara though his work on old school Japanese hip-hop label Major Force. He was cited as an influence in Bomb The Bass’ first album Into The Dragon. His influence has been much bigger in terms of streetwear and Harajuku culture that fuelled fashion and culture of the past two decades. He is now collaborating Moncler and did some media interviews :

Thailand is famous for emotion-filled adverts and this Sunsilk film is no exception, dealing with family acceptance of Kathoei (กะเทย). Its a beautiful piece of work by JWT’s Bangkok office.

I’ve never worn Doctor Martens myself but they were often seen in the school yard and during my early working life. They are as British as Marks & Spencers chicken tikka masala. I thought product had been moved offshore as part of globalisation, but it seems that there is still a small production facility in the UK. The process of how the shoes are made is fascinating.

The application of machine learning in the criminal justice system is something of concern. The natural inclination of authority is to inflate itself with every tool that progress provides.

Great documentary on Chinese wealthy migration away from China. The move to Vancouver was pioneered in the early 1970s with wealthy Hong Kongers preparing for its handover in the decades to come. They’ve been followed families who got rich on the mainland following the opening up of the economy.

It reflects the reality of major cities around the world now as capital flight out of China continues. Non-domestic earnings (like that from Russia and Middle East) is a factor driving unaffordability of housing. The experience of Mau and the opening up founded a culture of ‘now’. This has manifested itself in different ways: capital flight, having a bolt hole abroad and a foreign passport in case things go suddenly bad. It also explains historic product quality issues as entrepreneurs think about the now and let the future take care of itself, preferably while you have gone abroad to live a comfortable life.

This wasn’t the internet we envisaged

The debate over privacy on Facebook got me thinking about the internet we envisaged. Reading media commentary on Tim Cook’s recent address at Duke University prodded me into action.

What do I mean by we? I mean the people who:

  • Wrote about the internet from the mid-1990s onwards
  • Developed services during web 1.0 and web 2.0 times

I’ve played my own small part in it.

At the time there was a confluence of innovation. Telecoms deregulation and the move to digital had reduced the cost of data and voice calls. Cable and satellite television was starting to change how we viewed the world. CNN led the way in bringing the news into homes. For many at the time interactive TV seemed like the future of media.

Max Headroom

Starship Troopers

The Running Man

Second generation cellular democratised mobile phone ownership. The internet was becoming a useful consumer service. My first email address was a number@site.corning.com format email address back in 1994. I used it for work, apart from an unintended spam email sent to colleagues to offload some vouchers I’d been given.

My college email later that year was on a similar format of address; on a different domain. I ended up using my pager more than my email to stay in touch with other students. Although all students had access to the internet at college, the take-up was still very low. At college I signed up for a Yahoo! web email. I had realised that an address post-University would be useful. Yahoo! was were I saw my first online ads. They reminded me of garish versions of classified ads in newspapers.

After I left college I used to go to Liverpool at least once a week to go to an internet cafe just off James Street and check my email account, with a piece of cake and a cup of coffee. I introduced my friend Andy to the internet (mostly email), since we used to meet up there and then go browsing records, clothes, hi-fi, studio equipment, event flyers and books at the likes of HMV, the Bluecoat Chambers, Quiggins, The Palace and Probe Records.

I found out that I had my first agency job down in London when I was called on my cell phone whilst driving.

The internet was as much as an idea as anything else and the future of us netizens came alive for me in the pages of Wired and Byte. Both were American magazines. Byte was a magazine that delved deeper into technology than Ars Technica or Anandtech. Wired probed the outer limits of technology, culture and design. At the time each issue was a work of art. They pushed typography and graphic design to the limits. Neon and metallic inks, discordant fonts and an early attempt at offline to online integration. It seemed to be the perfect accompanyment to the cyberpunk science fiction I had been reading. The future was bright: literally.

Hacking didn’t have consumers as victims but was the province of large (usually bad) mega corps.

I moved down to London just in time to be involved in the telecoms boom that mirrored the dot com boom. I helped telecoms companies market their data networks and VoIP services. I helped technology companies sell to the telecoms companies. The agency I worked for had a dedicated 1Mb line. This was much faster than anything I’d used before. It provided amazing access to information and content. Video was ropey. Silicon.com and Real Media featured glitchy postage stamp sized clips. My company hosted the first live broadcast of Victoria’s Secret fashion show online. It was crap in reality, but a great proof of concept for the future.

I managed to get access to recordings of DJ sets by my Chicago heroes. Most of whom I’d only read about over the years in the likes of Mixmag.

All of this pointed to a bright future, sure there were some dangers along the way. But I never worried too much about the privacy threat (at least from technology companies). If there was any ‘enemy’ it was ‘the man’.

In the cold war and its immediate aftermath governments had gone after:

  • Organised labour (the UK miners strike)
  • Cultural movements (Rave culture in the UK)
  • Socio-political groups (environmentalists and the nuclear disarmament movement)

I had grown up close to the infamous Capenhurst microwave phone tap tower. Whilst it was secret, there were private discussions about its purpose. Phil Zimmerman’s PGP cryptography offered privacy, if you had the technical skills. In 1998, the European Parliament posted a report on ECHELON. A global government owned telecoms surveillance network. ECHELON was a forerunner of the kind of surveillance Edwards Snowden disclosed a decade and a half later.

One may legitimately feel scandalised that this espionage, which has gone on over several years, has not given rise to official protests. For the European Union, essential interests are at stake. On the one hand, it seems to have been established that there have been violations of the fundamental rights of its citizens, on the other, economic espionage may have had disastrous consequences, on employment for example. – Nicole Fontaine, president of the european parliament (2000)

I advised clients on the ‘social’ web since before social media had a ‘name’. And I worked at the company formerly known as Yahoo!. This was during a brief period when it tried to innovate in social and data. At no time did I think that the companies powering the web would:

  • Rebuild the walled gardens of the early ‘net (AOL, CompuServe, Prodigy)
  • Build oligopolies, since the web at that time promised a near perfect market due to it increasing access to market information. Disintermediation would have enabled suppliers and consumers to have a direct relationship, instead Amazon has become the equivalent of the Sears Roebuck catalogue
  • Become a serious privacy issue. Though we did realise by 2001 thanks to X10 wireless cameras that ads could be very annoying. I was naive enough to think of technology and technologists as being a disruptive source of cultural change. The reason for this was the likes of Phil Zimmerman on crypto. Craig Newmark over at Craigslist, the community of The Well and the Electronic Frontier Foundation. The likes of Peter Thiel is a comparatively recent phenomenon in Silicon Valley

We had the first inkling about privacy when online ad companies (NebuAd and Phorm) partnered with internet service providers. They used ‘deep packet inspection’ data to analyse a users behaviour, and then serve ‘relevant ads.

Tim Cook fits into the ‘we’ quite neatly. He is a late ‘baby boomer’ who came into adulthood right at the beginning of the PC revolution. He had a front row seat as PCs, nascent data networks and globalisation changed the modern world. He worked at IBM and Compaq during this time.

Cook moved to Apple at an interesting time. Jobs had returned with the NeXT acquisition. The modern macOS was near ready and there was a clear roadmap for developers. The iMac was going into production and would be launched in August.

Many emphasise the move to USB connectors, or the design which brought the Mac Classic format up to date. The key feature was a built in modem and simple way to get online once you turned the machine on. Apple bundled ethernet and a modem in the machine. It also came with everything you needed preloaded to up an account with an ISP. No uploading software, no errant modem drivers, no DLL conflicts. It just worked. Apple took care selecting ISPs that it partnered with, which also helped.

By this time China was well on its way to taking its place in global supply chains. China would later join the World Trade Organisation in 2001.

The start of Tim Cook’s career at Apple coincided with with the internet the way we knew it. And the company benefited from the more counter culture aspects of the technology industry:

  • Open source software (KDE Conqueror, BSD, Mach)
  • Open standards (UNIX, SyncML)
  • Open internet standards (IMAP, WebCAL, WebDav)

By the time that Facebook was founded. Open source and globalisation where facts of life in the technology sector. They do open source because that’s the rules of business now. It is noticeable that Facebook’s businesses don’t help grow the commons like Flickr did.

Businesses like Flickr, delicious and others built in a simple process to export your data. Facebook and similar businesses have a lot less progressive attitudes to user control over data.

Cook is also old enough to value privacy, having grown up in a less connected and less progressive age.  It was only in 2014 that Cook became the first publicly gay CEO of a Fortune 100 company. It is understandable why Cook would be reticent about his sexuality.

He is only a generation younger than the participants in the riots at the Stonewall Inn.

By comparison, for Zuckerberg and his peers:

  • The 1960s and counterculture were a distant memory
  • The cold war has been won and just a memory of what it was like for Eastern Europeans to live under a surveillance state
  • Wall Street and Microsoft were their heroes. Being rich was more important than the intrinsic quality of the product
  • Ayn Rand was more of a guiding star than Ram Dass

They didn’t think about what kind of dark underbelly that platforms could have and older generations of technologists generally thought too well of others to envisage the effects. You have to had a pretty dim view of fellow human beings.

More information
Tim Cook brought his pro-privacy views to his Duke commencement speech today | Recode
Bugging ring around Ireland | Duncan Campbell (1999) PDF document
The ECHELON Affair The EP and the global interception system 1998 – 2002 (European Parliament History Series) by Franco Piodi and Iolanda Mombelli for the European Parliament Research Unit – PDF document
Memex In Action: Watch DARPA Artificial Intelligence Search For Crime On The ‘Dark Web’| Forbes
X10 ads are useless – Geek.com
Disintermediation – Wikipedia