Category Archives: Rants

How One Brand Ignited A Spanish Revolution

I have just returned from a life list vacation. Four days in Barcelona, four days in Madrid, four days in Valencia. I was overwhelmed with the immersion in history a trip like that provides; it’s simply impossible to wrap your head around tour-guide comments like during the Roman Empire and in the 8th century, after the Moor conquest. And yet history was there, in crumbling city walls and decaying columns and guarding gargoyles of every attitude and style. It was there—not a homework paragraph in a World History book, but carved in stones you could reach out and touch, rubbing your hands along the ancient surfaces.

 

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one of a thousand streets in the ancient city of Barcelona

 

There is this aged history you see and feel and know in all three of the cities we visited. What I found surprising—and, quite frankly jarring—is the contrast between this history and a distinctly 20th century art form wildly prolific there.

 

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Graffiti. Graffiti is everywhere. Graffiti is so profuse in these cities and along the rails as you travel by train it overwhelms the senses and seems to somehow leave Spain’s remarkable beauty in shadow.

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When I first arrived in Barcelona, I made my way through the city thinking:  Obviously the Spanish embrace graffiti as art. What a great example of the wonderful, easy-going European attitude! But it didn’t take long until a growing irritation began to color my thoughts.

How on earth did they let it go this far?

 

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Here’s what I have learned.

  • In Spain, graffiti is illegal and considered vandalism.
  • The graffiti movement is a counter-cultural revolution that began in the first years of Spain’s transition from a dictatorship to a democracy during the early 80s. According to Skate and Urban Street Culture Barcelona, “Young people began to write their names everywhere, on walls in the street, in the metro, wherever. The materials they used were from a view of nowadays rather rudimentary. Among them were ‘Edding’ felt-tips, shoe polishes and paint sprays. Also they made their own utensils, adapting for example pens with a wider tip using gasoline burners to create this effect or they prepared the nozzles of the sprays to achieve a wider marking style. During this time it was more common to steal the equipment from big warehouses, car shops or stationers. Today there are still some artists remaining that practice this kind of style.”
  • “The art form changed” in 1994 when a new type of paint spray can was developed specifically for graffiti writers and introduced by a company called Montana Colors.

According to the Montana Colors website:

In the early ’90s, graffiti was considered, by all of the American and European spray paint companies, to merely be an act of vandalism. It was of no interest to any of the companies, because it wasn’t yet considered to be profitable. At that time, the discovery of this passionate cultural revolution was what propelled the founders of Montana Colors to lay the groundwork for the creation of the first spray paint made especially for graffiti and, in that way, fill that hole in the market.

Today, Montana Colors is a major brand. Again from the website:

All brands have a path and a record in history, as well as an appellation of origin which guarantees its authenticity. Ours began 18 years ago in Barcelona, at a time when, after the launch of our first spray product, the word spread across Europe, and writers and artists from France, Germany, Switzerland, and Italy began to arrive to fill their car trunks with Montana and bring it back to their countries. From that moment up until now, the Montana Colors brand has expanded to a presence in more than 30 countries in the world and to 15 official points of sale: Montana Shop & Gallery, in cities such as Barcelona, Madrid, Valencia, Seville, Montpellier, Brussels, Amsterdam, Nottingham, Lisbon, Montreal, Tokyo, Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro, and San Paulo.

The root of the proliferation of graffiti in these ancient Spanish cities comes down to two things: (1) personal statements of rebellion and independence following a dictatorship, and (2) the introduction of a product that “filled a hole in the market.”

And if that’s not a statement about the cultural power of branding, I don’t know what is.

5 Simple Lessons in Effective Communication

My husband and I were tooling around Ocracoke Island last summer when we came upon this sign. It caused such a shift in my brain I’ve remember it since.

The sign could have said: Children At Play  Or End State Maintenance Or even Nobody’s In A Hurry Here, Pal.

But none—not even the Ocracoke attitude version— would have gotten my attention as immediately. Why?

The sign offers five lessons in effective communication, all well demonstrated:

1. Get to the point.

2. Say just what you mean.

3. Use words real people use.

4. Be truthful.

5. Fight for simple.

So often, we marketers are guilty of over-complication and (worse) ambiguity. We would do well to remind each other clever is never the goal. Communication is.

The Power of Music and Casting

Last week I was working on a quick video project with our pals at Mad Monkey — who as usual — just blew the ball through the stadium and out of the parking lot. This project wasn’t huge by any means but it reminded me of two things I adore about video and TV production.

First, music. The right music ratchets up the quality of any project. It doesn’t have to be scored or go through sound design although that’s always delightful to have in your budget. In fact, the music chosen for my project was stock, but it was ideal for the feelings it radiated: light and youth. The first time I heard it I liked it. The third time, I loved it. When I laughed to the editor that I couldn’t get it out of my head, he said that was actually a good very sign the music was right.

Even better was the handful of times this stock music fit our onscreen graphics like a glove. That synchronicity is gift you rarely achieve without the work of a highly talented sound designer. A highly impactful phrase of onscreen text that’s punctuated by music easily carries twice the power. In the edit suite and on consumers’ TVs and computer screens that togetherness is pure magic.

The second thing I love about TV work is great casting. One of the finest examples of ideal casting we’re currently enjoying is Allstate’s Mayhem — Liz Lemon’s pager wearing, scumbag of an ex-boyfriend, Dennis (Dean Winters). It’s casting so perfect I practically purr when a spot comes on.

You can have stellar casting in local spots, too. Those folks at Mad Monkey have an uncanny knack — dare I say talent — for finding THE talent that fits your concept even better than you imagined. Around the time of my edit, they’d just released a new campaign of lottery spots that have awesome casting. The office worker is my hero all the way down to his beige socks.

Working last week I was reminded that even a smaller-scope project can feel bigger when you sweat the details. When you work with smart, highly attuned professionals like Mad Monkey, they key in on even the smallest points.

Music and casting aren’t just steps in the production cycle. They should be wielded to their full effect. They are as important as the words and images that accompany them. They are light and shadows that can turn a good concept into something far better: a TV spot that’s actually worth remembering.

Gotham: the new Helvetica

Man, I love the typeface Gotham and the foundry that created it: Hoefler and Frere-Jones. Gotham’s a great design and has been used successfully for many companies and organizations since its release back in 2001.

The problem is that it’s just been overused — and yes, I’m guilty.

In a world where distinctiveness and originality is more important than ever, it’s hard to justify using a typestyle that is reaching Helvetica-like status. Typography trends come and go, and Gotham has had an amazing run. From my perspective, it’s just time to move on.