Thursday, July 12, 2007

I'm a workin' stiff just like the rest of 'em

Well, my life as a full-time student is finally over. I can't hold off the real world any longer. I got my Bachelor's degree, went straight for my Master's degree, and now it's time to face the music. Are there Doctoral degrees in Advertising? Ha! No chance.

But even though they are taking away my freedom in some ways, my new job rocks! I just started on Monday for Jack Morton Worldwide, which is an experiential marketing agency in New York. Jack Morton has been around since the 40s, but it has traditionally always been a production agency that specializes in creating engaging brand experiences for corporations. They work in B2C, B2B, Internal Branding, and Public Events, and the stuff they've done is incredible. Check it out:

The great thing is that I'm coming in at a great time in Jack Morton's history. Like I said, they have traditionally been a production company. Before now, a company would come to them and say, "We need an event that will inspire our customers/employees, and that is in touch with our current advertising campaign." Then Jack Morton's creatives would get together, brainstorm, come up with some cool ideas, and execute on them. This worked very well for many years.

But now Jack Morton has decided to think bigger and smarter than before. Jack Morton doesn't want to just be the people who make an amazing event. They want to be able to answer the tough questions, like "Why did you go for this design for the video instead of the other design? Is there research that told you to go this direction? How will you guarantee success for our brand from this event?" All scary questions in the past.

Laura Shuler, President of the U.S. operations, decided that we need to incorporate strategic planning and consumer research, like a traditional ad agency would, into our capabilities, instead of just getting into a room and brainstorming. In comes the Experiential Planning Group, which I have just joined. For the past year, our group has been working on what the planning process would look like at Jack Morton, and how to differentiate it from a traditional agency's planning process. We have just rolled it out to our NYC office, and now we're going around the world to all our offices to roll out the process.

While I can't get into specifics, it's incredibly exciting. With the fragmentation of media splitting the advertising world into little bits over the past few years, it has become harder and harder as marketers to get a message across to the mass population. Less people watch TV than years before, and if they do watch TV, there are hundreds of channels instead of three networks. There are thousands of different magazines and newspapers, and millions of websites. Not to mention new media options, the iPhone, TiVo, and the other countless ways that people consume (and choose not to consume) media. How can a marketer pick the right place to place their message?

The one thing that will always stay the same, no matter how many different media there are: people always crave great experiences. The chances for someone remembering the brand name after watching a beautifully-made commercial are very small compared to the chances someone will remember the brand name when they are walking across the quad on their college campus and they play a cool game and get free stuff from a brand representative, or they go to a rock concert sponsored by a specific brand, or they see an exhibit in a museum that a brand is sponsoring. Jack Morton creates every aspect of the experience that will engage the person, so that they remember and get involved. I can't talk about examples of our own work, but a great example is the Virgin Music Festival. I went last year, and I'm going again this year. I have told countless numbers of people how much fun I had seeing the Red Hot Chili Peppers and The Who at the Virgin Music Festival. I have become a walking, talking billboard for how cool an experience I had with the Virgin Music brand.

One quote from Confucius on the Jack Morton website is something that really hit home with me when I was interviewing, and it has amazing relevance in the fragmented world of today's advertising:

"Tell me and I forget.
Show me and I remember.
Involve me and I believe."

I can't wait to get working.

Monday, July 2, 2007

They named me after the old man in Home Alone...

Big news coming out of the Gregory household!

I'm now the proud uncle of Samuel Nathan Gregory. Sam joins his older brother Henry and big sister Katie as the newest edition to the incredibly entertaining children of Chris and MK Gregory.

I've been "Uncle Frank" now for almost 5 years, and it still gets me everytime one of the kids calls me Uncle Frank. I always immediately think of an old holiday classic and the mean old man who plays the surly uncle. Can you guess what movie I'm talking about?

Of course, every movie buff knows I'm talking about Home Alone. What's the name of Kevin's scary, old, mean, cheap uncle who steals the silverware from fancy restaurants? Uncle Frank! Home Alone gave all Frank's who ever had a dream of being "the fun uncle" a bad wrap!

The ironic part is that the kids have obviously never seen Home Alone, and have no idea that they are reminding me of Kevin's uncle every time they call for me. They probably never will see Home Alone, unless they are still showing it every Christmas Eve in 2018. Probably not, because I can name many better Christmas movies that will stand the test of time better than Home Alone.

Maybe when they are 40 years old and I'm in my 60s, Home Alone will be on American Movie Classics or something. Maybe they will be sitting around the fire, watching the incredibly old classic Home Alone from back in the "golden years" of the 1990s, and they will be reminded of me when mean old Uncle Frank steals the spoons.

Anyway, I'm rambling now, so I'll just end it with a picture of my new nephew! Without further ado, Samuel Nathan Gregory and the updated Gregory family!!

Monday, June 25, 2007

Learning how to deal with the red eye...

So after the craziness of Vegas, most of my friends got to go home, take a sick day or two, and then try to physically recover themselves enough to make it back to work. I, on the other hand, being still a recent grad in the job hunt (the optimist's way of saying "unemployed"), had to experience the craziest week of travel in my life.

We left Vegas at noon PST on Monday, flew to Denver, sat there feeling hungover for a while, waited for our delayed flight, and then continued on to Northern Virginia. By the time I got my bags and had my parents pick me up, it was 2:30am EST, I had flown almost 3000 miles, and I passed out in my childhood bed at home within seconds of hitting the pillow. But there's no rest for the weary.

I woke up around 1pm EST on Tuesday, packed some nice clothes, and got in the car with my Dad to go back to Dulles Airport! That's right, I had a job interview. In LA! My plane was delayed 3 hours during thunderstorms (got a crucial nap in the terminal), but I finally flew out of Virginia and landed in California around 11pm PST, where I once again passed out very quickly.

I interviewed all day Wednesday in LA, and somehow, even though I hadn't felt that tired in a very long time, the interviews went really well! They gave me a tour of LA after my interviews, and then I got back on a red eye flight at 9pm PST to head back to Dulles again! Another 3000 miles later, my parents picked me up again, this time at 6am EST on Thursday morning.

But there was still one more leg of my ridiculous traveling. Luckily, I was at least done with the time changes. I woke up at 2pm EST on Thursday in Virginia, packed my bag with nice clothes one more time, and got on a train. Yet another job interview. In New York! I got into Penn Station at 10pm, took a train out to Hoboken and crashed on my buddy Brent's couch.

Friday morning, I got up, got ready for my interview, and then commuted in from Jersey into Midtown Manhattan. Somebody up above must like me, because once again, the interviews went really well! After the interviews, I was invited to hang out in New York for the weekend, but I had to turn down my friends. Between the lack of funds resulting from the Vegas trip and lack of sleep resulting from the 5 plane rides I had been on in 3 days, logic told me not to stay in New York and party.

I got on a train from Penn Station at 5pm on Friday, slept the whole way back to Virginia, and crashed again at my parents' house. I slept all day Saturday, then woke up and drove back to Richmond because I had to work a shift at my part-time job on Sunday morning. Luckily, there wasn't much going on at my part-time job on that particular Sunday, so let's just say I rested my eyes at my desk for a while.

Besides learning how to be articulate on no sleep (an area in which the Adcenter had trained me well), I also learned something that most traveling businessmen know very well: different airlines play the same crappy movies! Even though I flew on Delta one day, American the next, and back to Delta the next, I had to sit through the same movie 3 times!!

The name of that movie: Wild Hogs, starring Tim Allen, John Travolta, William H. Macy, and Martin Lawrence. My own personal hell. But at least it was a movie that was easy to sleep through.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

What happens there...

This past weekend, I experienced Las Vegas for the first time. My buddy Dale gets married in a month, and he's also never been to Vegas, so he decided that his last fun thing to do as a single man should be to experience all that Las Vegas has to offer. While I will stay true to the tagline of "What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas" (by the way, an amazing brand-building tagline, one of the best of the last decade in my opinion), I will tell you about one thing we did while we were there.

Besides never having been to Vegas, the other thing that Dale (and most of us as well) had never done was....skydiving. That's right, jumping out of a perfectly good airplane for no apparent reason.

For the months ahead of the Vegas trip, I was absolutely psyched that I was going to skydive. As it got within a week or so before the trip, I started getting a little nervous, but still felt mainly excited. My friends started to slap their hands together and say "Splat!" whenever they saw me, which really helped keep me at ease. Luckily, the job search and traveling kept me from really thinking about the fact that I was jumping out of a plane soon.

It didn't really hit me that I was going to skydive until I was about to land on the big plane arriving in Vegas. I had the window seat, so I spent the entire descent looking down at the desert, realizing that in a little over 24 hours, I'd be seeing this same view again, but in a much smaller plane and with a parachute strapped to my back. Once we got on the ground, however, the events of our first night in Vegas were more than enough distraction to keep my mind off of the jump the next day.

On the day of the jump, besides the hangover that was easily fixed with a Bloody Mary and some Eggs Benedict, I was also feeling very nervous. We got in the bus around noon and started driving away from The Strip towards the desert, and it was probably the most quiet the 8 of my college buddies have ever been when in the same general vicinity. When we got there, we had to watch videos which explained the danger we were about to put ourselves in, which gave us all some nervous laughs. Then we got to sign our life away on a waiver that I purposefully didn't read a word of, since every line began with "In case of death or accident...".

After the waivers, we each got our jumpsuits. We didn't get to pick the color of our jumpsuits, which proved to be a nice moment of embarrassment for me as well. Everyone else was getting black suits, blue suits, green suits, brown suits.....I got purple. I'm not talking about dark, Minnesota Viking-style purple. They gave me My Little Pony-style purple. I put on my bright purple jumpsuit, and of course, laughs burst out throughout the room. Even though the laughs continued, I pretended not to let it bother me, and countered their heckles with "I'm confident in my sexuality, and I'm about to do the most manly thing I can think of, so bring on the purple suit! I'm cool with it!"

After that was the waiting. It takes a half an hour to make each parachute, and there was only one guy making chutes that day. He started before we got there, but with 8 guys going, we still had a good 2 hour wait before even the first group of jumpers got to go. We passed the time by nervously watching the Borat movie, then Batman Begins. Then we finally got to start going. We went in groups of 2, and my partner was my buddy Drew. They put the camera in our faces and asked us if we wanted to say "goodbye...oops! I mean hello" to anyone back home, giving us one last freak-out, and then we got in the plane. They taught us where to place our hands and legs during the jump, and then we were off. This plane was the scariest contraption I've ever seen. Every little tiny gust of wind, and we blew across the sky. I started getting that dry mouth feeling that you get when you're really nervous, and we kept climbing in the sky. Then, all of a sudden, we were at 6000 feet, and it was time to go:

It was by far the coolest feeling ever. It took me at least 15 seconds of that jump to remember to breathe, because all I could see was the ground getting closer and closer. Once the parachute opened up, I received 5 of the best minutes of my life, just looking out over the Nevada desert with Vegas in the distance on one side and the Rocky Mountains on the other.

The one thing most people don't realize is how fast you are really going even after the parachute opens. All the parachute does is slow you down from 120 mph to around 20 mph. You still are coming at the ground pretty fast! I didn't realize this until I was about 100 feet from landing, and I had one last freak-out moment when I thought, we're going to slam into the ground! But the "put your feet up and slide in" technique worked perfectly, and it was a completely safe landing. When I got up, it took a few minutes to remember how to walk, because my entire body was in pins and needles mode, but after that, I felt the best rush of adrenaline of my life.

It took all the patience in me to wait for all of my friends to finish their jumps before we could get back to The Strip. Again, what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas, but let's just say that 8 college buddies full of adrenaline and excitement hit the town that night.

The rest of the details of the trip will have to stay locked in the 8 groomsmen's heads forever. But I will tell you this. Skydiving is one of the best memories I will ever have. I highly recommend it.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

An amazing 5 minutes of film...

Everyone has their opinion on the Sopranos series finale. Some hated it, some loved it, some wanted to wring David Chase's neck, some wanted to bow at his feet. My opinion? He knew what he was doing the entire time, and I respect the hell out of him for it. The Sopranos is not only my favorite show of all time, but it is the most well-written and original show in the history of television.


At first, I was shocked. The screen went blank, and it was over. Then I got mad. How could he end it like that??? Nothing was resolved!!! What happened to Tony??? What did that mean???

But then I started thinking about it. Even though the show is in the 3rd person, and not the 1st person from Tony's point of view, the entire show and its audience revolves around Tony Soprano. Therefore, if Tony was to die, the show would cease to exist, since the audience's point of view would be gone. Therefore, I'm sure that Tony is dead. I won't get into all the details of the last scene (which would take at least 10,000 words), but here's a link from an incredibly smart TV writer explaining the intricacies of the last scene, basically proving Tony's death. I highly recommend reading the entire article.

I guarantee that David Chase knew from the very beginning that this was how it all would end. "Wow, what if there was a mob show that ended with the main character getting killed, but it just ended with a blank screen?" Brilliant idea. It's as real as can be. When someone gets shot in the back of the head, everything just stops. It's over. There's no fairy tale ending like most modern cinema. There's no wrap-up whatsoever.

Think about it. There were many knew storylines that were started in the series finale! That's as true as it can be to real life. If you were to be walking down the street today and someone shot you in the head, there would have been many new storylines that had started in your life that very day! Since real life doesn't wrap everything up nicely, neither does David Chase, since the philosophy of the writing from Day 1 was realism at all costs.

David Chase sat around 15 years ago and came up with the ending. Then he started filling in the pieces. Amazing. To the very end, he continued to surprise his audience. Bravo.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

"No-money fun" helps create youthful, happy cities...

To quote comedian Mike Myers talking about his childhood when asked about the inspiration for Wayne's World, "The best kind of fun is no-money fun." In school, we learned about internal brand leadership within a company, and how memorable rewards are great ways of building the culture of your company around the brand's values. I think the same concept can be applied to cities that want to attract young people to settle down in an area.

Every summer on Brown's Island in Richmond, Virginia, there are weekly free concerts on Friday afternoons from 5pm-10pm. The event is called Friday Cheers. Brown's Island is one of the most beautiful parts of Richmond, where you can lay out on the grass and look out on the James River, which runs right through the downtown area of the city. Whether you are working in the Financial District or Shockoe Bottom (the "creative business area", which includes the Adcenter, the Martin Agency, and many design firms), when Friday at 5pm comes along and you're ready to unwind, you are only a 5 or 10 minute walk to Brown's Island. When you get there, you get to enjoy listening to some pretty big name bands such as Keller Williams, The Black Crowes, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and others, and you don't have to pay a dime. (Of course, mostly everyone buys a few beers and some food, so the vendors and the city make some revenue, which I'm assuming pays for the band).

I guarantee that the city of Richmond loses money on this every week, yet they have had Friday Cheers for many years, and it has become a staple of summertime in Richmond. This is a great example of "internal brand leadership" for the brand of Downtown Richmond. Richmond wants young workers to be attracted to the city so that the job market stays competitive and the local economy can continue to thrive. Richmond also wants these young workers to live in the city, not the suburbs, so that the quality of life in the city remains young, diverse, and crime-free. Finally, Richmond wants all workers to stay in the downtown area on Fridays after they get off work so that the restaurants and bars can make money, helping the local economy as well.

Friday Cheers is a great answer to all of these questions! If I'm a music fan (or I just like to unwind on Friday afternoons in the summertime), I would love to go to a free concert with my co-workers and friends that is within walking distance of my office. And after the show ends at 10pm, I'm not going to go all the way back home to the suburbs to change clothes and/or end my night's fun. Instead, I'm going to take the 5 minute walk back into the downtown area to a restaurant or bar and go catch a late dinner and drinks. If I know that there is all this fun in the downtown area, I'm going to want to move downtown so I can be near everything, instead of having the hassle of going out to the suburbs with only the possibility of coming back to meet my friends later.

If Friday Cheers even cost $5, they would only get half of the crowd they get now. Only the people who actually were fans of the particular band that day would come. Everyone else would go home or just go to happy hour for an hour before heading back to the suburbs. But Richmond decided that it could excite its citizens by rewarding them for a hard week's work with some no-money fun right downtown.

Last summer I went almost every week. I love living in the city, and not the suburbs, because things are always happening. I just enjoyed my first Friday Cheers this past Friday when Keller Williams was in town. I'm looking forward to some great times having no-money fun on Brown's Island all summer. And I love Richmond for it.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Applying what we've learned to a Pig Roast

My family loves being the party-throwers. Starting with my oldest brother Chris and his friends back when they were in college, our family has been involved in the coordinating and hosting of 6 pig roasts. If you've never been to a pig roast, it's like a barbecue, except much more exciting. Instead of burgers, dogs, and sausages, there's a whole pig spinning for hours, making everybody's mouth water in anticipation. It's so exciting that people take pictures next to their future meal. Who takes pictures of the burger on the grill that they are about to eat? Nobody! But when there's a 75-pound pig spinning, it's photo opportunity time.

We threw a pig roast this past Saturday in honor of my graduation from the Adcenter and my brother Geoff's graduation from Virginia Tech's MBA program. It was a blast, and went off without a hitch. 150 of our closest friends ate, drank, and were merry. But there was one difference with this pig roast that the former roasts didn't have. This pig roast had an ad campaign.

We decided that it would be entertaining to the guests if we took some of the strategic planning and advertising tools we had learned in our respective schools and applied them to the planning and advertising of a pig roast. Geoff made a work flow diagram that started with the mission of the pig roast and went all the way down to the tactical initiatives needed to throw the party. Coming from the Adcenter, it was my job to "brand" the pig. With the help of my brother, we created a brand essence pyramid for the brand Pig. We looked at it from the point of view of a pig and what he would value for his personal brand (if he were able to think). The strategic work flow diagram and Pig brand essence pyramid are below.

Once we had the strategic plan and the brand essence, we needed a logo and a tagline. After a lot of brainstorming, we came up with the tag: "Celebrate the Sacrifice." The great part about the sacrifice is its double-meaning: the sacrifice of hard work we made for our degrees, and the sacrifice of the peaceful citizen (the innocent pig) for the sake of our stomachs. The logo and tagline are below as well.

Once we had our brand, we started branding everything. Cups, balloons, t-shirts, everything. We went all out. It took a lot of hard work, and we didn't sleep much for the few days leading up to the event, but it was worth it. To see people come in the front door, greeted with a branded welcome sign, and then be handed their souvenir branded cup to take home was amazing. I'll never forget it.

It also shows that what we do as marketers doesn't just have to deal with brands. We can use our skills in much more than just advertising. We can plan events, throw parties, and get people excited about just about anything. Anytime that there is a message that's trying to be said to a person or a feeling that is trying to be evoked in a person, marketing can work wonders.

I love the field I have chosen. The wheels in my head are already spinning for Pig Roast VII.

By the way, my niece might have found her calling as a bartender. Good pour, Katie.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Hating the Yankees is going to be harder now...

I grew up a Baltimore Orioles fan. I still wish the O's well, and root for them almost all of the time. Almost. When they are playing the Washington Nationals, I have a conflict of interest that always finally sides with DC. My love for all sports in DC is too great to go against them when Baltimore comes to town.

Growing up an O's fan (and having a mother from upstate New York who cheered on the Mets as a child), there is one team that I have always hated in baseball. That would be the New York Yankees. Not only are they a rival of the O's in the same AL East division, but there was one moment in the rivalry where things somehow went the Yankees way, and I fumed for months.

Jeffrey Maier is a name I'll never forget. He was the 12-year-old kid who gave the Yankees a home run and the momentum against the O's the last time the O's made the playoffs in 1996. He took what would have been a caught ball for the 3rd out of the 6th inning and pulled it with his glove over the fence into the front row of right field. None of the umps saw it (conspiracy), and a 2-run homer was given to the Yankees. The Yanks went on to win the game and the series, and Jeffrey Maier got to be on David Letterman, Jay Leno, and Good Morning America. Ridiculous.

However, I now won't have as bad a taste in my mouth when someone mentions the Yankees. This is because their owner, George Steinbrenner, has put some of the loads of money he has to good use. Steinbrenner announced today that the Yankees will donate $1 million to the Virginia Tech Hokie Spirit Memorial Fund! They will also play a charity exhibition game at Virginia Tech sometime in 2008!

This reminds us of what is really important in life. As an avid sports fan, I sometimes get too excited and think that a loss is the end of the world. Anyone who has ever been in the stands with me at Lane Stadium after a Hokie loss can attest to that. But possibly the only positive thing that a tragedy like 4/16/07 can bring about is a sense of perspective.

A loss in sports is not the end of the world. It's a loss in sports. That's it. Because of a rivalry, I have cursed the Yankees my whole life. Not to say that I'm a Yankee-supporter now, but I am a Yankee-respecter. Along with all of the other rivals that supported Virginia Tech after the tragedy (West Virginia University, Miami University, the University of Virginia, etc.), the Yankees put aside sports for a second and looked at the big picture.

To the New York Yankees, I say thank you from all of Hokie Nation.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Fear of Restraint

Our commencement speaker last week was Keith Reinhard, the head of DDB Worldwide. He was incredibly entertaining and gave an amazingly honest and inspirational speech that hit home with a bunch of 20 somethings who had just finished the Adcenter.

The part that hit home the most for me was when he talked about "the fear of restraint." He told us that we, as advertisers, have the power to influence the world and shape its culture. There will always be the chance to make a campaign that says something trivial or raunchy. There will always be the chance to make something funny just because it's funny, even when you are risking damage on the moral character of society.

He told us that this is the easy way out. Most advertisers have a fear of restraint. They let their laziness take a hold of them, and they stop trying to make something great, and instead make something raunchy or offensive.

Just like any other fear, the only way to continue is to face it and run through it. He told us to always face our fear of restraint head on, and to never be lazy. This is what we, as the next generation of advertisers, must do. As our society's morals dwindle year by year, and music videos become less like works of art and more like soft-core pornography, we as advertisers have the chance to help out the world by saying something meaningful and inspirational.

We hold a powerful tool in our hands. Use it wisely.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

MoonPie Madness is on the air!!

About an hour after my final Portfolio Review at the Adcenter I was at Sine's Irish Pub celebrating finishing my two years of advertising graduate school. After sipping on a few pints of Guiness, I planned on stopping by school on my way home because I forgot something. When I got there, I heard the most amazing news I could have possibly heard on this already glorious day...

The NPR radio piece on the VCU Adcenter aired that morning. And MoonPie Madness got a full minute of conversation and quotes! We made national radio! 1.5 million people from all around the country heard about our MoonPie eating contest!

I was ecstatic. Not only as a part of the team that pulled this all off for less than $500 and only help from MoonPie in the form of free product. I was ecstatic as the teams Brand Manager whose job it has been all semester to track the brand impressions that we have generated. YouTube got us over 12,000. The Richmond Times-Dispatch article got us around 28,000. The local CBS6 11:00 News piece got us 35,000. But this was huge.

On the morning of May 15th, we had generated 106,000 MoonPie brand impressions. Now we've generated 1.6 million MoonPie brand impressions. All with less than $100 out of each of our pockets.

Talk about a resume booster.

A newfound respect for Green Day

I heard Green Day's newest single today for the first time. It's a cover of "Working Class Hero" by John Lennon, and it is done very well.

Anytime someone covers an artist of the stature of John Lennon, they are walking the fine line of putting their own mark on the song while not infuriating the purist fans of the original artist. Green Day did a great job on both ends. The song is distinctly Green Day, with Billy Joe's recognizable voice and the band's rebellious but straight-forward sound. At the same time, they kept the tempo at the same slow pace that Lennon had it, which is out of the norm for Green Day's fast-paced style. What came out was an amazing and modern rock ballad for the working man.

While many artists today successfully cover songs from the past and walk that fine line well, most fall short in one major area: they don't give credit to the original artist. You always have to search through the CD booklet (which are being read less and less these days with our lack of CD buying and obsession with downloading) to find the credits area for each song. There you find "Words & Music by [insert old rock legend here]" written in 6 point font. It's like finding a needle in a haystack.

Many 12 year old kids in the world have never been educated about the music of the 60s and 70s, and therefore don't even realize that the song they are listening to is not written by their new favorite band of 25 year old guys. While I'll venture to guess that while most 12 year olds have at least heard of John Lennon, the vast majority have never heard Lennon's original track of "Working Class Hero."

Which brings me to how Green Day got my respect in a way very few bands have ever managed to do before. As the last 15 seconds of the distorted guitar and drums fade away, the John Lennon's voice and folk guitar are slowly faded into the song. The song then ends with John Lennon's original ending, which might shock the 12 year old into a state of realization. All of a sudden, their eyes will be opened to the fact that Green Day's newest song was written by some old guy, which will get them to ask around about who wrote the original.

Most likely, it will be their parents that tell them the answer. The kid will feel enlightened, the parents will feel cool again, and John Lennon's memory will be crystallized in another generation's memory.

Great job Green Day.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

"Your Majesty, those are NASCAR fans..."

Last Thursday was a very interesting day for the city of Richmond. We were double-booked. Besides the effect this had on traffic (Richmonders aren't used to a lot of traffic, so there was a lot of complaining), it also was an intriguing look at culture.

On Cary Street, they blocked off the roads because NASCAR was in town. The drivers all park their cars on the street and you can meet some of them and check out their cars. This is always a huge event here, since Richmond International Speedway is a major stop on the NASCAR circuit. It also is one of the few "night tracks" on the circuit, since most of the Richmond races are under the lights. I grew up only 2 hours north in Fairfax, yet I had never experienced NASCAR until I got here. The hype around Richmond is incredibly exciting, even if you don't normally follow the sport.

About 8 blocks away at the Virginia Capitol building, Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip were visiting Richmond as a brief stop before heading to Williamsburg and Jamestown for the 400th Anniversary of the Jamestown Settlement. There was music from all sorts of different genres represented, and thousands of people picnicked on the Capitol Lawn waiting for a chance to see British Royalty. The Queen and the Prince made their walk for about a half hour, waving and having their pictures taken, and then went into the Capitol to give a speech to the state representatives.

I can't even imagine what the conversation had to be to explain to the Queen why there was another major event that was causing traffic in the city that day. Has the Queen ever heard of NASCAR? Who knows.

But the one thing I noticed about this city is that Richmonders take pride in their culture, but also give a lot of respect for other cultures. When city officials realized that they had double-booked the downtown area, they didn't make NASCAR back down because of the Queen, even though it had been 50 years since the Queen had been to Richmond and NASCAR comes twice a year. They still had the same fun celebration of the sport that they would have had if they had been the only event in town like they are used to. Richmonders were probably proud of the fact that they could have their beloved NASCAR represented at the same time as the Royal Family of our former days when we were a colony represented right down the street. It showed the diversity of Richmond and the importance that they put on their own culture of car racing, but also the importance of respecting another culture. They wanted to the Queen to see NASCAR for the first time. I think it was an important gesture to the residents of Richmond, and I'm proud that I can call myself a Richmonder, even if it's only for a couple years.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

The future of video games

I got to play some Nintendo Wii this weekend for only the second time ever. My friend brought it over to another friend's house, and we played for hours. I can't get enough of it.

We played Wii Sports, which includes tennis, boxing, golf, bowling, and baseball. All from one controller a little bigger than the size of my hand, I can play all of these different games, going through the real motions necessary to play the games "in person", or "the old way."

The Wii is going to change what video gamers will expect from video games in the future. We can now actually play a sport on a video game and use the same muscles that we would if we were playing in real life. In a few years, gamers will not be satisfied with playing a game where you only press buttons and watch a representation of yourself act out your command. Soon they will demand that they be able to act out every motion themselves.

This leads me to ask how the Wii will be used in the future. Will trainers and youth coaches start telling the parents of the 8-year-old kids on the team to "go home and practice your swing on your Wii for an hour before you go to bed tonight?"

The other major observation I had from playing the Wii and watching my friends compete against each other: We created ourselves in the game. We weren't picking current stars of professional sports and "controlling" them in our game. We all made "Mii's", which are characters that you get to customize that look as much like yourself as you want. Then we competed by controlling an onscreen likeness of ourselves.

This leads me to ask: Will the idolization of sports stars start to be less important, and instead an emphasis on our own sports accomplishments be more sought after? If I can control a likeness of myself and play a game of baseball, will I start to care less about Ken Griffey Jr. or Frank Thomas? Will I only see them as inspiration to practice my swing until I'm as good as them, instead of just wanting to "control" them in my game?

Obviously, only time will tell. But after playing the Wii, I'm optimistic for my future children when it comes to their video game consumption.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Reema Samaha

Yesterday I attended the memorial service for Reema Samaha, one of the 32 innocent Virginia Tech students who were killed on Monday. I never knew Reema, but I knew her older brother Omar. Omar went to school with me in elementary school at St. Timothy's, in high school at Paul VI, and then followed me to Virginia Tech.

The service was back home at my childhood church, St. Timothy's. There were so many people there that I did not get a seat, but I didn't mind. It was great to see so many people supporting the Samaha family and the Hokie Nation.

Reema's father made a great comment in his closing remarks. He said that the name Samaha in Lebanese means "forgiveness." The media cameras from all over the globe were watching as he explained the Samaha name, and then went on to pray for the soul of Seung-Hui Cho, the 23-year old student who killed the 32 others. He also prayed for the Cho family as they grieve for the loss of their loved one.

It struck me as one of the most moving things I've heard this week out of all the speeches that I've listened to. No one before Mr. Samaha had expressed any concern over the killer's soul at all. After he said it, I thought "Of course, Seung is a human being as well." In that time of great family grief, he gave the world a valuable lesson in forgiveness.

I have never been more impressed with someone's character in my life.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Hokies, stand united.

It is impossible to put into words the impact of the events of Monday, April 16th, 2007. The entire Virginia Tech community has been hurt by the actions of one. All students, faculty members, employees, alumni, family members, and friends of Virginia Tech watched the news in shock as we learned of the deaths of 32 of our fellow Hokies. We are all still going through the grieving process, feeling the emotions of shock, denial, confusion, sadness and anger while we search in vain for answers to this senseless tragedy.

No one feels these emotions more than the family members of the 32 innocent students and professors who lost their lives that day. While no Hokie will ever forget about 4/16/07, the families of the victims now carry with them a permanent scar that can never fully be healed. These families need to know that all of Hokie Nation and the entire country has their support.

Virginia Tech has set up the Hokie Spirit Memorial Fund, which will be used to cover the expenses associated with assistance to the victims and their families, grief counseling, memorials, communication expenses, and comfort expenses. I started a fundraiser at the VCU Adcenter. You can start one too. It's not hard and doesn't take that much of your time. Please give to this charity.

I cannot express in words what the Hokie Nation is all about. So I will instead leave you with the closing speech of the Memorial Convocation at Cassell Coliseum on the Virginia Tech campus, given the day after the tragedy by Nikki Giovanni, renowned poet and English Professor at Virginia Tech. Her remarks and the reaction of the Hokie community in attendance show what it truly means to be a Hokie.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Nimrod Nation

I recently saw a documentary made by Kevin Proudfoot of Weiden & Kennedy and Director Brett Morgan called Nimrod Nation, which was based off Weiden & Kennedy's ESPN advertising based on the idea of "Without Sports....". Some of the ads featured the Fighting Nimrods of Watersmeet High School in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. The ads showed people cheering on the Nimrod basketball team and an 85-year old alum of the school cheering the Nimrod fight song. The tag read, "Without Sports, Who Would Cheer For The Nimrods?"

The popularity of the spots created a buzz which got the Nimrods featured on Jay Leno and other national shows. Kevin and Brett saw how popular it was and decided to actually make a show called Nimrod Nation, which they pitched to ESPN. ESPN ended up denying for financial reasons, but Nimrod Nation won awards at the Sundance Film Festival.

The thing that struck me was that Brett, when discussing how they made the film, talked about the fine line between respectfully laughing with a character and making fun of a character in film. If they had wanted to, they could have made fun of the tiny town of Watersmeet and the people in it. They are very down-to-earth, nature-loving, and somewhat backwards people. And they love their Nimrods. By following the coaches, players, alumni, and fans around with a camera for 4 full weeks, they had a lot of footage that they could have used that would have been hysterical for an audience of "city people." Instead, they only showed scenes where a character made a joke that the people of Watersmeet would understand and respect.

It is inevitable that some people will laugh at this film and will be making fun of the people of Watersmeet in their heads. But Brett and Kevin did a great job of keeping the town in the loop of every joke, and the town loved it.

I strongly urge you to watch this film. Search "Nimrod Nation" and you'll find it.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Being in a suit for over 24 hours

I don't recommend ever wearing a suit for more than 12 hours at a time. I don't normally mind wearing suits, and I know that I'm about to embark on a career journey that will have me in suits on a pretty regular basis. But last Friday I was in a suit for literally 24 hours straight. Let's just say it got a little uncomfortable.

I woke up in Hoboken, New Jersey at my friend's place at around 6am. I showered and put on my suit, and he dropped me off near Rockefeller Center, where I had my interview later on that day. The interview went well, and I took the subway back to New Jersey, where I immediately hopped in my car to drive all the way back to Richmond, Virginia.

The reason I had to get back that day, and the reason I didn't change out of the suit: Adcenter Prom was that night.

Adcenter Prom is a great idea. Take all the drama and logistics involved from high school prom out, and leave the part about getting dressed up, crowning a King and Queen, and consuming alcohol. That's Adcenter Prom. It's so much fun that I was willing to leave NYC at 3pm on a Friday and forego a pretty fun weekend in the city to be back by around 10:30 to catch the last 2 hours of prom.

So I drove the whole way, and surprisingly didn't hit too much traffic, except for the DC Beltway. I got back by around 10:15 and literally didn't even go home. I went straight to prom in my suit. Prom was a really good time, but surprisingly, there was an extra keg of beer at 1am when it was over. Translation: after party. So instead of going to bed, I went to the after party, still in my suit. We had so much fun, that all of a sudden I looked at my watch, and it was 5:45 in the morning! What?? I've been up for 24 hours!! I haven't done this since my undergrad days!

And guess what: I'm still in my suit. I finally went to bed around 6:30am, and slept like a baby. It was a great day followed by a great night. But seriously: I don't recommend being in a suit for 24 hours straight.

Also, how weird is it that a guy can wear the same clothes to a job interview and a graduate school prom and be dressed perfectly for both occasions?? Hmm...

Monday, April 9, 2007

Finding out about "your Fast"

Last night I was hanging out with some of my non-Adcenter (read: normal) friends, and we went to a small party. When we got back from the party, my friend Adam reaches for a DVD to put in, just like most kids our age do when they get home at 2am on a Saturday night. Yet, this was different. This was an amazing piece of entertaining marketing that had my friends rolling on the ground laughing and at the same time lusting over the product.

I'm talking about the DVD that Crispin Porter & Bogusky made for the Volkswagon GTI. In it, an American actor with a pretty bad German accent goes through many scenes explaining the different features of the GTI and also going through some "focus group research" with a few consumers. The whole point is to find "your inner Fast."

It's hysterical. My friends told me that they had only watched it once before, yet they were quoting specific lines right before they came up! It was THAT memorable! Keep in mind that the choices in Adam's DVD collection included Wedding Crashers, Old School, Anchorman, Office Space, etc. This list of funny movies he has can go on forever. Yet he picked the VW GTI DVD, and his roommates were psyched about his decision!

Adam got it by taking a test drive of a GTI. Of course, he's a college kid and doesn't have the money to buy a GTI. But this DVD has entertained him enough that he associates the GTI with fun times, and I guarantee that in a few years when he is ready to be a car, he's going to be thinking about a GTI.

Good work Crispin.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

An experiment in viral marketing...

Right before Christmas last semester, 4 of my Adcenter friends and I went out for beers at a local bar, and got to talking about brands that haven't put money into advertising in many years, and therefore are dying. We thought about how amazing it would be if we, as students, were able to get young kids excited about a dying brand. We also thought about how we could use very little money to do it.

We came up with MoonPie Madness. MoonPie hasn't advertised in many years, and they are seen as an old, nostalgic brand. Something that you have once every five years while thinking, "Wow, I haven't had one of these since I was a little kid." MoonPie also hasn't tried to get the new generation of young people excited about their product at all. Hence the term "dying brand."

We decided to create the largest MoonPie eating tournament in history. We obviously didn't have any money, so we got local sponsors to donate in exchange for their logo being on the tshirt. March Madness was coming up in a few months, so we decided to leverage the fact that VCU was having a great season and probably would make March Madness. Little did we know that they would beat Duke and be the highlight of the first round of the tournament.

MoonPie Madness is this Sunday, April 1st. We've been spending almost all of our free time on this for the past 2 months, but it's all worth it. We were at first worried that we wouldn't have enough competitors. Now we have so many that we've decided to have an exhibition round for the people who don't get to be in the brackets.

Check it out. Let me know what you think. I'll let you know how it goes after Sunday.

I recommend you look at all of the multimedia links. But definitely check out "TV Spot #1." It's my commercial acting debut.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

A serious game of Rock Paper Scissors

I went up to New York City a week ago to search for a job in advertising, and I stayed with my old college buddy Brent in Hoboken, New Jersey on Thursday night. We went to this restaurant/bar to get some food and be tempted to have some beers. We resisted, though, since I had an interview on Friday.

Around the end of our meal, we started hearing a female voice yelling repeatedly, "Rock, paper, scissors, shoot!" "Rock, paper, scissors, shoot!" As soon as we were done eating, we went to investigate, and we found a young woman in a referee outfit with a decently sized crowd around her, and two people staring each other down in a game of Rock Paper Scissors. We looked at the bracket and realized that this was a full 64-person tournament being put on by the USARPS League. That's right, everybody, there's an official national Rock Paper Scissors League, and it's sponsored by (no surprise here) Bud Light! Check it out at!

There were still a few spots open in the bracket, so without hesitation, we joined the tourney. Let me tell you, it was an intense hour after that. I found myself watching my future opponents to get some strategy on them: "Ahh OK, he always throws rock after throwing paper. Gotta remember that for next round."

Brent and I ended up getting paired up against each other in the Sweet 16 round. For those 5 minutes, we were no longer friends. We were rivals. Alas, Brent beat me, and went on to the Elite 8, where he lost to a girl! The championship was two girls going up against each other, and everyone in the bar was very much on one side or the other in their cheering.

I had no idea that there was an official Rock Paper Scissors League. But it goes to show how obsessed we are with competition in our country. Even though it was all in good fun, people were getting pretty intense. I now know that you can find just about any type of game, and if you put it in the right setting and make it sound official, you can get people excited.

Oh, and the interview went pretty well too.