Super Bowl Winners and Losers

So what were the best and worst of the Super Bowl ads? It’s always tough because for brands it is often a mixture of strategy, positioning, and where you are aiming in this great country of ours. If you are on the West or East Coast there is a different sensibility than in middle America. If you were to poll middle America, Muppets and Puppies will usually win the day. If you poll the East Coast you might have a win for Colbert and Pistachios. And if you were to poll ad agency peeps you would get a different reading altogether. Then there’s research and strategy people… they would have yet another opinion. But these are my opinions on both the ads and the opinions of America. So here we go.

Newcastle — They didn’t run a Super Bowl ad. What they ran was an ad about doing a Super Bowl ad before the Super Bowl. This was better than actually running a Super Bowl ad. The strategy was smart, taking advantage of the Super Bowl atmosphere for ads, mocking it a little, and basically ambushing the Big Game Advertisers. Best of all the ad and digital content were both great. Big win for Newcastle.

Radio Shack — This was fantastic. Anytime a brand admits an issue and plays it to get attention for fixing said issue, it tends to go well. The ’80s called and they want their store back. And the ’80s come to get it in the form of more ’80s icons than I expected in an ad. Everyone from Hulk Hogan to Mary Lou Retton. I am pretty sure I saw them take some CB Radios; 10-4 Radio Shack. Good times and a big win for them.

Bud Light Epic Night Out — Everyone I know was saying the stunt thing was played out. I don’t think so. Real people like to watch real people in ads. And people still love stunts and pranks. The Internet is filled with them. Not to mention it’s a great way to let the everyman touch the brand. The Bud Light stunt wasn’t great. The guy they picked was a demo conglomeration of the Bud Light customer. He was excited but cool, dressed neatly but casual, in good shape but not slim, well-groomed but not metrosexual. In other words, he was fake. Also it seemed pretty easy for the guy to go along. It lacked any edge to make it dangerous or at all a tough decision. in other words — NO TENSION. That left it to Arnold Schwarzenegger to save it. And he did. There is a magic to Arnold that rings true in almost everything you see him in, even though you can barely understand what he is saying. So a win for Bud Light but it was a close call.

Turbo Tax – They have done a great job this year by centering on what YOU can achieve in life. And at the end of the ad, getting back money on your taxes by doing them yourself is just one of those things. It’s a simple strategy that works well and is executed nicely in their Super Bowl ad and in others I have seen. On the other side of that is H&R Block which has been doing a decent job talking about the Billion Dollars taxpayers left behind. Looks like it is going to be a tough battle to get your tax-planning dollar for years to come. Big win this time for Turbo Tax.

Audi Doberhuahua – I want a Doberhuahua. I love dogs. I am not sure I want an Audi but the better the commercials get the closer I will get to driving one. And if they come with a Doberhuahua… I’m in. One more note — they released their ad before the Super Bowl which is what a lot of advertisers are doing these days. It’s smart. They got tons of play with the Sarah McLachlin teaser and they got me on board early.

Doritos Time Machine — Doritos has made a name for themselves by being the biggest brand to totally crowdsource their ads. The Time Machine ad was one of those silly things that makes me chuckle and not much more. I get the idea that kids will try and swindle you out of your Doritos but I get tired of all the snacks where everyone is trying to get the last one from you. And the tricks those kids play to get them are just dumb. I want that kid that developed the test for Pancreatic Cancer to come up with a way to get all the Doritos. Something real.. like killing us all so that he was the only person on earth who could eat the Doritos. Doritos are delicious but I would gladly give some to a kid. Hell, a kid can put a finger on my Butterfinger as long as I don’t have to eat it afterward. But they can’t have my fries. That is where I draw the line.

Microsoft – Was that Hawking or just some random Microsoft computer? Actually it was Steve Gleason typing with his eyes but it was hard to tell in the ad. Computers and technology in general have obviously helped people live better lives. And Microsoft has been a big part of that. I felt like the ad jumped around too much though. I think Steve’s story is enough. In other words, I like what they tried but the ad didn’t hit me as hard as I wanted it to. It felt like Microsoft was trying to say too much about too much technology instead of showing us how big they were in Steve’s eyes. Still, they got close.

Colbert for Nuts – You can’t miss with Colbert. The two ads together were incredible. Of course, I am a fan and there was a little inside baseball here for the ad community. But he hit it out of the park in my opinion. Big win for Pistachios.

Bud Puppies – This so reminded me of the Bud Frogs. Once Bud finds something that works they drive it into the ground. And you shouldn’t drive horses and puppies into the ground– well, especially puppies. This was a total copy of last year’s friendship ad with a puppy. Didn’t work for me but will work for middle America. Don’t they know that dogs are man’s best friend… not horse’s best friend. So big win for middle America, big loss for me and my ilk.

KIA’s The Truth — You can’t handle the truth about luxury. If you ever saw real luxury it would blow your mind. And once you see it you can never go back to your plastic, phony existence with your small cup holders and sad turning radius. I know KIA has a car with a lot of amenities for less money. So do a lot of cars. That’s why we buy brands. This made their brand look like an old movie. Big loss for KIA.

Hyundai — Wow, this was just plain bad. I hardly ever say that about Super Bowl ads because I know how much work goes into them. But this ad was tough to understand from the beginning and seemed to throw everything at the screen to talk about the different aspects of the car. But none of that came through. All that came through was — I think I am watching something but I am not sure what. And lastly — girls are really supposed to like your car — not try and destroy it and kill you. And what is a witch doing on the road anyway? Are all women witches? You can see the issues here. Big loss.

Jaguar — I so wanted to like this. I really did. But again, like a lot of ads this year, it felt flat again. I mean, you have villains. We expect a lot from villains these days. I know that people who do commercials watch HBO or even the Following. Villains are really evil. They are using mind control and stuff. These guys just drive around in helicopters and Jaguars. Big deal. They don’t even have lasers. Where’s the laser going at Bond’s privates? Where’s the laser aimed at the White House? Where’s the laser aimed at the Space Station? You see what I am saying.

Go Daddy — Best Go Daddy ad ever. I did not see the end coming when all those muscle bound maniacs rounded the corner. Of course, they could have been running for the GNC store but whatever, great ad for Go Daddy.

VW Wings — It was kinda funny and well done. Plus I liked the fact it was focused on reliability instead of safety. It ended up being a more interesting way to go. And the edgy joke at the end about rainbows coming out of your butt was great. it won’t play in Nebraska but who the hell cares. It’s a VW not a Ford F-150 or a Chevy Even Larger and More American than a Ford F-150.

T Mobile Contract – T Bow for T Mobile. I love the strategy for this. T Bow is looking for a contract and T-Mobile will help you out of your contract. So showing how T Bow is free to do what he wants because he doesn’t have a contract is great. However, the ads seemed flat to me. It felt like they were going through the motions on the situations. I didn’t laugh or cry. I didn’t care all that much either way. I just felt like T Bow made some decent money and I’m pretty sure there was a contract somewhere here.

Coke — I just heard on the news that Conservatives are upset that Coke ran an ad with “America the Beautiful” sung in foreign languages. I didn’t love the ad and thought that any time you use a patriotic song like that in an ad you are pandering. But now I like it more because I hate ignorance. This is simple. We are a very inclusive country. It’s called a melting pot not an assimilation pot. And the fact that people from other countries are singing “America the Beautiful” shows just how powerful our idea of Freedom really is. So this is a win for me.

All in all not a great year for the Super Bowl advertisers. Nothing made me howl with laughter, tear up or give me chills. There were some sound strategies, interesting takes and things I definitely remember but not like in some past years. The Big Game ad landscape is changing. More and more advertisers are taking advantage of Super Bowl month instead of the game alone. Social gives advertisers the ability to shine around the game instead of in it. It is evening out the playing field so to speak. So good luck next year.

Fear and Loathing at CES

As I was walking around CES dodging the drones I was finding it really hard to find the really incredible stuff. Seems like they have so much stuff that it all kind of blends together … 200 curved televisions, 50 smart watches, more headphones than you can shake your head at, etc., etc. So I found someone at a BIG ELECTRONICS MAKER who will remain nameless so that I can protect his brand and asked him to show me the most incredible new things the NAMELESS BIG ELECTRONICS MAKER makes. Here is our incredibly embellished conversation.

BIG: That isn’t here. That is in the suite.

Me: Where is the suite?

BIG: If you are important to us, you already know where the suite is.

Me: What if you don’t know how important I am yet, or just missed me … maybe I didn’t get the invite … lost in the mail … misspelled my name … you know?

BIG: Doesn’t seem likely. We know who the important people are. They are the same important people who were here last year.

Me: Can you give me an idea of what is in the suite besides delicious refreshment (booze)?

BIG: The stuff of past tomorrow. We have some tomorrow stuff here, but the suite has the stuff that is past tomorrow. Say some of the stuff here is for a Tuesday in 2017. The stuff in the suite is for a Friday in 2022. You see what I am saying?

Me: But you can’t tell me what it is?

BIG: No. But that’s also where they hand out the good, free stuff. The stuff past key chains if you know what I mean.

With that, I started walking again … looking for anything interesting and trying to pick out the important people. Here is what I found.

Curved Televisions

Well, I finally saw one at CES. From the front, I couldn’t tell it was curved at all. So I am not sure what the curve of the screen really does for you. Michael Bay was supposed to tell the crowd at CES exactly what it meant to have such an innovation. But even he had trouble doing it. So much so that he left the stage and ran away.

I didn’t feel like running away. But I didn’t feel like spending a ton of money on one either. The best I can say is maybe it surrounds you more … makes you feel like you are inside the circle so to speak … or, as the guy at Canon said about a new camera they were pushing – IT GIVES YOU IMMERSIVE INTIMACY. Also, companies like Sony want to sell its super TVs so it might give you more money to make Curved Screen Movies in 8K.

Cleaning Robots

I saw a great many cleaning robots. I like the little saucers running around, scaring the dogs, and sweeping up the dirt and grime all day long. They even find their way back to the charger on their own. Good little robot slaves. I just worry that my house might be too dirty for them to clean. I worry they might get stuck on a really large piece of dirt or a 185 pound nicely dressed slug who just happens to be in their way. Are they durable enough to survive my family, dog poop, the occasional dead rat? I am a skeptic since I have had a hard time surviving there myself at times. And I am human – or remotely close.

Office Bots

I tried to talk to one of these people/things. It’s kind of a Segway with the screen that moves around so that someone from a field office can talk to you like they really exist in your world. Think of it as iChat on wheels. These were running around and yapping it up – probably from a room in the back and not really New Jersey. They can follow you down halls, into the restroom, the linen closet. There is really no escape from the Office Bot. But like I said – I TRIED TO TALK TO ONE. As you can see from the video, she was not interested. So, Office Bots are very much like most women I talk to, or at.

The World’s Only Sparkling Water Refrigerator

This excited me. I love sparkling water and drink it more than flat unexciting water. And the writing on the wall said you could pick from three different levels of fizz. I can tell you right now I enjoy the highest level of fizz. Take that fizz up to 11. I am a high-fizz man. What does that mean? I live life to the highest level of fizz. Do you?

Antimicrobial Gorilla Glass

I had no idea that the glass on my smartphone or tablet could fight germs. I don’t like the microbes. They are small, often angry and really nasty looking under the microscope. Turns out the silver ions in the Corning Gorilla Glass naturally kills a lot of the germs. This is one of the weird things you see at CES that makes you go, “Wow, I did not know that glass could kill germs or that silver ions kill germs or that anyone would think that glass could somehow kill germs and make it a sales point for GLASS.” Nice.

Smart TVs and Connected Homes

The Smartest TV I saw was the Life Screen from Panasonic. This thing is really incredible. It recognizes your face when you walk into a room and will throw up a channel you like to watch or give you messages about the weather. It will turn off when no one watches it – or pretend to be off. And you can talk to it like it’s a member of the family. And it probably is the member of the family you will pay most attention to … so in that respect, a healthy family member. Maybe the next generation of curved screens will be able to curve enough to hug me. That will bring our relationship to the next level. Lastly, it will connect to Panasonic’s Home Cloud system so that it can talk to the fridge, the washer, the dryer, etc. – i.e., The Connected Home.

The Connected Home was one of those things that was everywhere at CES. I felt like the most futuristic one was Haier’s Sm@art Home. And not just because of how they spelled Sm@art with the @ symbol. No, it was much more. A refrigerator that, with the push of a button, goes clear so you can see the food inside. Special sensors can detect when the molecular changes in the food say it is going bad. Your fridge will warn you by sending you a text that says – “Don’t eat the Mongolian Beef.” Well, maybe not that straightforward – YET. The washer will tell you when it is broken. You might already know from the mildew and the not quite washed clothing – but it will tell you anyway. There is also the automatic wine inventory cooler – it will probably tell you if that vintage is worthy of storing or you should just drink it immediately out of the bottle. Looks like they are trying to connect everything they possibly can to a home hub. Some fun stuff.

Ultra HD, 4K and 8K Televisions

These sets are razor sharp or as sharp as my old eyes can see how sharp they are. This is where the rub is though. How much longer will I be able to see well enough to know I am looking at a really great television? What is the ratio of APPRECIATION TO AGE TO PERFECTION? I feel like, once they get cheap enough and close to perfect, I will be too old to see their glory. So, they depress me a little. I’d like to be alive and able to see a 28K Ultra HD 3D 150 Inch Smart Life Ultra Curved and Flexible TV. A TV that sees more than the human eye can, curves to envelope my soul, is smart enough to know what I should and shouldn’t be watching, and makes me forget that I have to call the doctor and schedule that “test” I am supposed to get.

Smart Cars – Sorry “Intelligent Cars”

At CES, cars like to say they are intelligent instead of smart. I don’t know why this is. But intelligent driving is obviously better than smart driving. Audi was asking an interesting question … “can you predict traffic?” Well, the answer is “Yes.” Of course you can. And as cars get more intelligent and start to learn more and more from your driving habits – and communicate those habits to the grid, the cloud, the GPS-controlled universe, your car will be able to tell you plenty about how to get somewhere. And eventually, it will just do the driving for you. Audi was also sporting its own tablet that was connected to your car. I didn’t think this was the most “intelligent” move. I have two iPads and an iPhone. I don’t need an Audi tablet as well. Didn’t make much sense to me. These car companies should be looking at integrating your devices, not creating their own.

Many car companies are integrating with Android and iOS devices. Mercedes was even teaming up with the Pebble Smartwatch and Google Glass. The watch idea is pretty cool. You can see if the car is locked, how much fuel you have, lock and unlock doors, etc.

Murata Boy

I don’t really know what Murata makes and I really didn’t want to look into it. I just wanted to watch Murata Boy Robot ride his bike. It’s a guilty pleasure watching a robot balance himself and ride a bike using his internal gyroscope and his tiny robot arms and legs. Makes you think that Murata can make anything. It makes you think that there is magic. That someday, robots will kill us all. And they will do it on robot motorcycles. The future is here. Murata Boy, we love you.

The Smartwatch That Doesn’t Need a Phone

… because it is a phone. It’s just a nice looking watch that is a Bluetooth phone. It has a SIM card inside. This is different than most of the watches that need to be close to your smartphone to work. I found this interesting. I wouldn’t want to take my SIM card in and out, but it would be nice to just forget the phone and still have a phone … even if it just had a SIM card for emergency calls when your phone runs out of power, or if you lose your phone or break it. Then, Dick Tracy comes in handy.

Obviously, CES is setting the standard in the Next Big Things to come. One of these days, I will get into the suite and discover that stuff that is PAST TOMORROW. Good times.

Randy’s Top 10 films of 2013

Once again, if for no greater purpose than my own amusement, it’s time to choose my 10 favorite films from the past year.  Please note that I call them my “favorite” films rather than “best” films. The difference?  The 10 films that entertained, surprised, interested and stayed with me the most in 2013 weren’t necessarily the 10 technically “best” movies I saw.

But they were my favorites. It’s as simple as that.

Before we get started, a review of the parameters.  As I say every year, I see a lot of films, but I don’t see them all.  So if you saw one that you considered brilliant and it’s not on the list, chances are I haven’t seen it.  Either that, or our respective definitions of “brilliant” sharply differ.   And I present them in no specific order.  I narrow the list to 10, but I don’t rank from there.  Number One is in that position simply because I wrote about it first.  I don’t consider it any better than #6 or #9.

Finally, these are the films I saw in the calendar year 2013.  Some of them may have been released in 2012.  And there are others that have been released that I haven’t seen yet.  Her and Inside LLewyn Davis would fall into that category. I’m told they’re really good, but I’ll have to see for myself.

Okay, that’s enough of the preliminaries.  On to the list:

fruitvale1. Fruitvale Station – I’ve only seen two films in the last 10 years that have rendered the crowd in the theater dead silent at the conclusion. United 93 was the first. Fruitvale Station is the second. It’s built around an actual event: the shooting and killing of the unarmed 22-year-old Oscar Grant on New Year’s Eve, 2008 by a Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) policeman during an altercation at BART’s Fruitvale Station.  The movie begins with images culled from real iPhone footage of the actual shooting. So, five minutes in, we know exactly how it’s going to end.  It’s getting there that gets under your skin. Fruitvale Station takes us through the last day of Oscar’s life, showing who he is, what he cares about and the seemingly innocuous decisions he makes that we know will lead to his death.  The first thing to know is, Oscar was no saint.  We learn that he used to deal drugs, and that he has served time in prison.  He’s unemployed, with no real prospects in sight (remember, it’s December 2008 – the Great Recession was in full flower).  But lord knows, he’s trying to get things right.  He’s clearly devoted to his girlfriend and their four-year-old daughter.  His mother, played by Octavia Spencer, still plays a large part in his life.  And in one scene, he literally throws away the opportunity to make a quick buck by returning to his drug-dealing ways.  Oscar is played, wonderfully, by Michael B. Jordan, who fans of TV’s Friday Night Lights will recognize.  Some have said that the film almost sanctifies him, turning him into a much more noble character than he really was.  Okay, maybe so.  But the film isn’t a documentary. It’s a dramatization, and the event at its core is no less maddening, outrageous or tragic because the filmmakers chose not to portray the victim as a jerk. By all accounts, the real Oscar Grant was trying to turn his life around.  And there’s no getting past the fact that his death was completely preventable and totally unnecessary. Fruitvale Station shows us how our perspective is altered when the victim of a crime (the police officer was sent to prison) changes from “some guy in a subway station” to someone we’ve actually come to know.

gatekeepers2. The Gatekeepers – The gatekeepers in this documentary are six former heads of Shin Bet, the official Israeli security agency charged with the safety of Israel and its leaders (not to be confused with the Mossad, who are the Israeli spies, kind of like our CIA.  Shin Bet is more a combination of our FBI and Secret Service). The most amazing thing about the film is that the producers got even one of these guys to talk, let alone all six.  Shin Bet is not exactly in the publicity business, and when it comes to Israel’s security, they play for keeps.  But talk they did, openly, expansively and honestly. The result is fascinating, and at times depressing. Of course, the primary subject of discussion is also the primary source of Shin Bet’s attention: the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza and the continuing Palestinian conflict.  The six may have varying opinions on certain tactics, but they all agree that the occupation of the West Bank has been a disaster for Israel and that peace with the Palestinians – which they all desperately want – will continue to be an elusive beast.  Lying at the heart of the shared pessimism – a complete disdain for politics and politicians.  This film dramatically demonstrates the differences between those who talk about peace and security and those who actually have to make it happen. Not one of these guys has any use for politicians whatsoever.  In their eyes, politics and political considerations have always trumped logic, pragmatic thinking and sound strategic and tactical decision-making.  And they have no confidence that the situation will change anytime soon. The Gatekeepers is an engrossing look at a situation that most of us only understand in the vaguest way, if at all, from a group of men who have had to live and breathe it every day of their professional lives. Like I said, fascinating and depressing at the same time.

 gravity3. Gravity – Most of the time, when a film is set in outer space, space seems pretty cool.  Not so in Gravity. Gravity’s space is cold and dark and silent and deadly. It’s also the setting for the best-looking movie I saw all year. For me, the best special effects don’t become a question of “How’d they do that?” They simply become the world that we’ve entered for the duration of the film.  You don’t ask how it was done, because it’s no longer an effect.  It’s another place, and you’re in it. For 90 minutes, I was there (By the way, isn’t it cool that such a great story could be told in 90 minutes, instead of the 2 ½ to 3 hours a lot of filmmakers feel they need?  Lessons can be learned.).  A lot has been made of the scientific inaccuracies in the film as well as the too pat, too melodramatic backstory of Ryan Stone (aka Sandra Bullock).  People, it’s a movie.  Fiction.  Popular entertainment.  And I was entertained.  And invested in the characters.  And because it was fiction, I had no guarantee either of them would make it out alive, so I spent the entire time on the edge of my seat rooting for them and wondering what new obstacles would be thrown their way.  It was 90 minutes that went by like 90 seconds, and I walked out exhilarated and yes, mystified at how they did it.  What more can you ask from a movie?

americanhustle4. American Hustle – Con men, con women, corrupt politicians, a fake Arab sheik, an overly ambitious and somewhat gullible FBI agent, Mob guys, and one incredibly disruptive – and hilarious- Long Island trophy wife – all sporting 70’s hairstyles, wearing absurd 70’s fashion and conning one another to the best 70’s soundtrack you’ve heard this side of a Scorcese film. And, as the opening graphic tells us, some of it actually happened. I won’t go into the plot here.  It’s too serpentine, with too many twists, turns and red herrings.  Just know that director and co-writer David O. Russell continues on a major roll that started with The Fighter, continued through last year’s Silver Linings Playbook and now lands on the two hours of manic wonder that is American Hustle. In this one, Russell has put together an awesome ensemble of actors, many who have appeared in his previous films and all of whom shine brightly in this one.  Christian Bale is virtually unrecognizable with 40 extra pounds and the most ridiculous comb-over in film history. Amy Adams continues to show that she’s one of the most versatile, and underrated, actresses working today.  Bradley Cooper picks up where he left off in Silver Linings, and Jeremy Renner is perfect as the pompadour-wearing Jersey politician who tries to do right by doing wrong.  Louis C.K. shows up as an FBI supervisor and Robert DeNiro has a short, but vital, cameo. They are all great and yet, in my opinion, they were all overshadowed by one performance.  As good as this film is, it gets even better whenever Jennifer Lawrence is on the screen. She plays Rosalyn, the bull-in-the-china-shop wife of Bale’s character whose odd logic and impulsive behavior send the story on more than one hilarious detour.  She is funny, authentic and perfect.  For me, she steals the movie.  And I think she has a great shot at her third nomination and second Oscar before her 24th birthday.  Not bad.

12yearsaslave5. 12 Years a Slave – Originally, I found it highly ironic that it took a British director (Steve McQueen) directing a British actor (Chiwetel Ejiofor) to make what is, so far, the most honest and definitive film about American slavery.  But now that I’ve had more time to think about it, maybe Americans wouldn’t have taken such a clear, unflinching view of the most shameful episode in our history.  Lord knows, none have tried.  By now, you probably know the story.  Free man Solomon Northrup of Saratoga, New York is literally kidnapped and sold into slavery in Louisiana, where he spends the next 12 years as the property of two different plantation owners.  One of them, played by Benedict Cumberbatch, is somewhat benevolent but still laboring under the delusion that it is acceptable for one set of humans to enslave another.  The second, portrayed by Michael Fassbender, is a sadistic, evil, fanatically religious loon who embodies everything wrong we can possibly imagine about a 19th century slave owner.  The movie pulls no punches as we sit there and ask ourselves how this could have possibly happened in this country.  The language and the attitudes of the people involved in the slavery infrastructure (kidnappers, agents, buyers, sellers, owners, overseers) are shocking in their matter-of-factness.  Some of the scenes depicting whippings and other cruelty are tough to watch.  But, because the film is so well made and acted, it never became too much to bear.  I was engaged the entire time.  So, even though 12 Years a Slave is being trumpeted as an “important” film, don’t let that scare you away.  It’s also a very good film, about a chapter in our history that none of us know enough about.

dallasbuyersclub6. Dallas Buyers Club – The 70’s of American Hustle were fun.  The 80’s of Dallas Buyers Club – not so much.   It’s 1985 in Dallas, Texas when we first meet Ron Woodroof.  And he’s not that nice a guy.  He drinks, does drugs, bounces from one-night-stand to one-night-stand, and to say he is openly homophobic would be a huge understatement.  Then, while being treated for a work-related accident (he’s an electrician, working on oil rigs), Ron learns he has AIDS.  In fact, his condition is so advanced, the doctors tell him he has 30 days to live.  His first reaction, naturally, is angry denial.  But once reality sinks in, so do his survival instincts. And that’s when our opinion of him starts to turn around as well.  Even though he may not be the greatest guy, Ron Woodroof turns out to be incredibly resourceful and, ultimately, a survivor.  And we spend the rest of the film rooting for him as he cajoles, schemes and fights to get the drugs he needs to carry on.  The drugs he ultimately provides to hundreds of other AIDS patients facing the same governmental obstacles standing between them and the treatments that will make a difference.  By now, everyone knows that Matthew McConaughey lost nearly 50 pounds to play the AIDS-stricken Woodroof.  He is almost unrecognizable, until you hear his unmistakable voice.  McConaughey has been on a major roll lately (Lincoln Lawyer, Bernie, Magic Mike, Killer Joe, Mud) and Dallas Buyers Club is as good a performance as he’s ever given.  But he’s not alone.  Jared Leto, taking a break from his 30 Seconds to Mars rock and roll duties, is every bit as good playing Rayon, the AIDS- afflicted transvestite who shares a hospital room with Ron and eventually becomes his business partner.  It’s hard to imagine that a film about people battling both a disease and their own government can be uplifting.  But that’s ultimately what Dallas Buyers Club is.  A film about a man who never gave up, and in the six years prior to his death (after being given 30 days), made a palpable difference.

springbreakers7. Spring Breakers – I always strive to include at least one crazy, over-the-top film from the fringes on my list.  Welcome to Spring Breakers. Anyone who has seen any of Harmony Korine’s films (Gummo, Julien Donkey Boy, Mister Lonely) knows that they’re not in for a conventional two hours at the movies. Spring Breakers delivers all the madness one could ask for, this time in a package that includes Selena Gomez and James Franco.  The plot is deceptively simple.  Four teenage girls decide to steal a car and head to Florida for spring break – where they take drugs, drink, party and meet up with a ridiculous-and hilarious-drug dealer named Alien. The inevitable descent into madness and violent crime quickly ensues. At least it’s inevitable in Harmony Korine’s world, where it all happens as part of an overblown, overplayed, over-drugged satire.  Of course it’s violent and shocking and unreal.  But Korine has no interest whatsoever in reality.  His world is much more fun.  And no one in the film has more fun than Franco, who throws away all vestiges of restraint in making Alien one of the most unhinged characters I’ve ever seen. There’s no doubt that Spring Breakers will not be everyone’s cup of tea.  In fact, I’m sure a lot of people who saw it were both surprised and disgusted by it.  Which probably suits Harmony Korine just fine.

20feetfromstardom8. 20 Feet from Stardom – Who are the most underappreciated people in show business?  According to this film, it’s the people who sing background on records and in live shows for some of the most famous musicians and record producers we’ve ever known.  After watching 20 Feet from Stardom, I agree. I love documentaries, and I really love documentaries that teach me about something that I knew nothing about.  Before seeing this one, all I knew about background singers was that – well –they sang background.  What this movie showed me is that many of them are incredibly gifted singers (some are much better than the stars they are backing up) who simply haven’t had the breaks or chased the stardom as relentlessly.  Some have sung very important parts on songs we all recognize.  And some are very happy to retain their place in the background, leaving fame to those better equipped to handle it.  Others feel they could have – and should have – been stars. But for a variety of reasons, they aren’t.  We learn that missing out on that stardom often has very little to do with talent and very much to do with luck or circumstance.  Often, it’s just a case of who they end up working with and singing for (Phil Spector, for instance, is once again revealed to be the manipulative, self-serving dick we have all come to know.). If nothing else, the interview with Merry Clayton as she reveals how she came to sing the immortal background track on the Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter” in her bathrobe in the middle of the night, and then hearing Mick Jagger confirm it all, is worth the price of admission. 20 feet From Stardom is filled with stuff like that.

bluejasmine9. Blue Jasmine – Woody Allen still cranks out one film a year. Blue Jasmine is 2013’s effort and it’s his best since Midnight in Paris. Everything in the film revolves around the main character, Jasmine, who is certainly blue.  She is a woman of privilege who has never known, nor learned, to be anything else.  Problem is, her rich husband has gone to jail and all of their money has gone to the IRS.  Jasmine is left with nothing but her sense of entitlement and what remains of her wardrobe as she moves to San Francisco to live with her sister, presumably because she has no other options.  Jasmine is played by Cate Blanchette in a performance that the critics like to label as courageous.  I just thought it was really, really good.  She throws herself completely into a portrayal of someone who can most charitably be called a case of arrested development. She has virtually no skills – social or professional – yet still believes everyone should treat her as if she’s worth hundreds of millions of dollars.  Her character in neither sympathetic nor particularly likeable, and Blanchette is content to leave it that way.  I suppose that is courageous.  At any rate, hers is an amazing performance in a film filled with many very good ones. Sally Hawkins is perfect as Jasmine’s more grounded sister Ginger.  And Bobby Cannavale, as Ginger’s boyfriend Chili and Andrew Dice Clay, of all people, as her ex-husband are both very good and a lot of fun.  But Blue Jasmine belongs to Blanchette, as she shows us a tortured character that can’t believe she has lost her old world and can’t understand how to fit into her new one.

prisoners10. Prisoners – What would you do if your child went missing and the police, for procedural reasons, won’t arrest the person you’re sure is responsible?   That’s the question at the center of Prisoners, a dark and disturbing look at what can happen when otherwise normal and law-abiding people feel they have to take the law, and justice, into their own hands. A quick synopsis: Hugh Jackman and Trerence Howard are the fathers of two six-year-old girls who disappear from their front yard.  The prime suspect: a weird guy (played by Paul Dano) seen hanging around the neighborhood in a beat-up old RV. The lead detective on the case (Jake Gyllenhall) brings him in, but is forced to release him due to lack of evidence. That’s when things get intense. The film spends the rest of its time showing us what happens when good people feel forced to do bad things to protect their families or, in this case, find their missing daughters. The power of the film is that we in the audience are given the same set of facts as the two fathers.  Therefore we believe what they believe, and though we know what is happening is wrong, we empathize and sympathize with them. We’re horrified at what they do, yet at some level, we get it.  Maybe we even agree with it. Prisoners  shows us that we are all prisoners.  The little girls literally, their fathers (and us) imprisoned by a set of beliefs and emotions that lead to some horrible conclusions.  It’s a really powerful film.

Close…But No Cigar

Some years it’s hard for me to find 10 films I really liked.  In others, it’s tough to narrow the list down to just 10.  This was one of the latter years.  I had a tough time taking the following five films off the list, but 10 is the number, so these five just missed.  In many other years, any or all of them would have been on it.  But since it is my list, I have always reserved the right to add a “Close But No Cigar” list.

And so:

Mud – Matthew McConaughey… again.  This guy can do no wrong.  In a year filled with “coming of age” films (The Way, Way Back, The To Do List, Kings of Summer, The Spectacular Now), Mud was easily the best.

This is The End – If you give Seth Rogan, Jay Baruschel, James Franco, Jonah Hill and Danny McBride a bunch of money and tell them to do whatever they feel like doing, you get This Is The End.  Easily the funniest film I saw all year.

All is Lost – Robert Redford, all by himself on a badly disabled sailboat in the Indian Ocean.  Movie has about 12 words of dialogue.  And I was completely engaged the whole time. (I will also never sail the Indian Ocean all my myself)

Enough Said – Julia Louis Dreyfuss should do more films.  She is an outstanding comic actress.  And of course there’s James Gandolfini, playing against type in his last role.  Really enjoyable film that is much sadder than it was ever meant to be.

The Conjuring – Old school, jump-out-of-your-seat horror film.  It has almost no crazy special effects, just lots of really excellent, really creepy stuff.  For some reason, horror films are able to do more with smaller budgets than any other genre.

The Connected You (or, How I learned to stop worrying and get a DRONE.)

The term “connected home” used to be the buzz-worthy phrase that experts threw around. Then there was the “Internet of things.” The interesting thing is that these two phrases have come together to form the Connected You. And it all centers on WEARABLES. Whether it’s a FuelBand, an Up, an iWatch doesn’t really matter. You’re now connected 24/7 to the home and the Internet of things. Think about it. The WEARABLE knows when you’re awake, asleep, just exercised or sitting around on the couch rotting away. It knows when you have walked into a room. It knows when you leave the room. It could conceivably know whether you are happy, sad or having a massive heart attack. And the things it can trigger to happen are vast and complex. Here is a typical day for the new Connected You.

You wake up – your WEARABLE knows you are awake – your phone says, “good morning” and starts to go over the day’s appointments. The shades automatically open. The WEARABLE notifies the thermostat that you are soon to be blanketless and turns up the heat … and when you leave the house, it will turn it down. Coffee starts brewing in your connected pot. Your virtual Starbucks barista says “Good Morning,” with way too much pep, which makes you need the coffee even more. The television in your bedroom will turn on and go to the station you always watch at that hour. It is smart. … It will know. You will need to be quick and get up before the wife or the TV will be confused and go to her morning show … and we don’t want that. It’s OK though, because your TV will simply put up a message that says, “The downstairs TV is available for CNN,” or whatever you watch.

Of course your TV will have a great deal of messages for you like, “Hey, there’s a new Netflix series. If you can watch the entire season today, we’ll send you a free bottle of Tide or five Bitcoins. Get 50 of your friends to like us and get a free On Demand movie.”

If you happen to be wearing an MYO on your wrist, you’ll be able to wave at the TV and change the channel, turn it off, or shoot down the volume so you don’t have to hear the girls from The View. If there were still newspapers, your DRONE would have delivered it by now – but there aren’t, so your computer (which, of course, knows you’re awake) has turned itself on and put up whatever news site you look at first, unless you don’t live with anyone – then it will put up some “other” site.

Remember Star Trek, when the doors would open by themselves all the time? If you have your WEARABLE on and you’re an early adopter, this is possible now. There are any number of things that can trigger actions for the connected you. I have what is called a Smart Things Hub, which is working toward all of this. Right now, I have a presence detector on my key ring that alerts my home when I arrive and can trigger things like lights going on and off, alarms, appliances, doors unlocking – really anything with electric power. It also notifies me if any of my WINE cooling units goes above a certain temperature or when someone opens the door to get any of my WINE from the cooling unit. Anyone reaching for my WINE triggers an alarm and a DRONE strike.

As you leave the house, your WEARABLE is tracking your steps, location, how vigorously you’re walking, running, driving or crawling to wherever you are headed. Of course, you might not be driving – they say cars will be able to drive you by 2020. That way you can watch even more YouTube cat videos because you’ll be able to do it while driving. Of course, your Louboutins could have sensors in them as well. They might tell you, “You have walked too far in your Louboutins. The red is wearing off. Stop and look sexy before all is lost.”

Most likely you will at least have two devices on you that are communicating with everything else in the universe – your phone and your WEARABLE. With the right chip in your WEARABLE, you won’t need a credit card. You can just wave your wrist at the person or robot at the counter. Window-shopping will get really weird, though, because the window will change to stuff that is right only for you. Which probably means an overweight window display. And you will be able to wave at the window and a DRONE will show up wherever you are in the street and drop the thing you just purchased directly on your head. The skies will be filled with DRONES carrying big-screen TVs and washers/dryers, ugh. And, oh – DRONE PETS. That’s a drone that basically follows you everywhere you go, which could lead to DRONE LOVE, which is two DRONES that join up and dance to the music you like and other weird crap.

How many things can you be connected to with your phone and your WEARABLE? It boggles the mind really. Everything from your home and every electronic device in it, to your car to billboards, to streetlights, to your DRONE, to the iPad menu in the restaurant, to the shelves and products in the grocery story, to your clothes, shoes, hats, whatever. And with the kind of profiles you can put in phones and WEARABLES, you don’t really have to do much. Devices will take from your profile and even learn your habits. Once the device communicates with your device, it will trigger things to happen. Once your cereal on the shelf is screaming, “They’re GRRRRReat,” when you get close, you’ll be sick of all that.

Parties – say you go to one. Your phone will alert you to the other WEARABLES and what is going on with them. For instance, there might be a beautiful woman or man who has a higher heart rate around you. Your phone will send you an alert and your WEARABLE camera pin will mark that moment in the constant video of your life being recorded. Then, you can go home later and print a reasonable facsimile of her/him/it with your 3D printer. This isn’t really that far off – you can 3D print your penis as a sex toy today if you like. Someone may be practicing making out with your 3D printed head right now – in his/her basement (feel free to use that as a movie idea).

But that’s really just the beginning of creating things yourself. The Smart Things Hub I spoke of earlier is a crowdfunded product from Kickstarter. Another product is littleBits. With littleBits, you can take your 3D printed head and easily ad electronics to it and make the eyes light up for a more realistic experience or make the mouth move when someone comes close.

Then there’s MIND CONTROL. That’s right, MIND CONTROL. There may come a day when you can actually control all of these devices, limbs, even people, with your mind. Think about it. On second thought … DON’T THINK ABOUT IT.

And, of course, there will be the RETROS. Those are the people who will not be connected. They are keeping it real. They are taking Polaroids, reading actual books, wearing regular glasses instead of Google Glasses. They have a dog instead of a smart home. They have real friends. They are 3D printing with clay – using their hands. And we hate them. My phone will eventually alert me when they are around and I will send them special hate messages using my MIND CONTROL.

In the end, the future is really about connections. Not just how you are connected to the world via your WEARABLE and your smartphone. But how you and others begin to connect the innovations and innovators that appear every day. The ability to connect DRONES, WEARABLES, apps, littleBits, Home Automation, Foursquare, Facebook, MeCams, Learning Computers and yes, even, MIND CONTROL, is creating a new future where innovation is everywhere just looking for another collaborator.

In marketing, we’ve been doing this for a long time – trying to connect people and technology with our brands.  But now, the open nature of the Internet and the ease at which connections are made is driving innovation and breaking down the barriers to just about everything. Enjoy – you may see that flying-car future any day now and it will probably fly itself.

Art vs. Commerce

There is a new film – Wonderland – that features commercial directors talking about the difference between true creativity/art and commercial work. Bottom line from the film is that they find commercial work to be anything but artistic.

I have worked with a number of directors on commercials. Many of them went on to do feature films. Others were doing feature films when I started to work with them. From my experience, the best of these directors treat commercial film the same way they would treat an artistic film. The ones who didn’t did boring, lifeless commercial work. The ones who treated it as a piece of them and gave the endeavor their artistic soul always made better work.

Is a commercial work purely creative? NO, of course not. Many times in Wonderland they talk about the restrictions that clients and agency people put on the work. They talk about the money behind the work and how that affects it. Basically, they talk about how they can’t do whatever they want and how that differs greatly from artistic work where they decide what the subject and tone of the work is.

Having read both Coppola’s biography and numerous stories about Orson Wells and other film directors – I can tell you that projects with complete creative control do not always come out better than those where studios dictate a number of the decisions. Directors such as Woody Allen and Spielberg tend to have more control than other directors – and their films do feel more like art than some other films. But I am not convinced that having less control – they won’t make great work. They are great directors. They made great work when they had less control … they just didn’t like it as much. It is harder. It is frustrating. But if they didn’t make great work in the first place with studio collaboration, they would have never had the control the have now. So what comes first – the chicken or the egg?

It is easy to say that when it’s someone else’s idea, there is no art in it. Art comes from the heart and experience. It’s something that garners emotion from the viewer. Commercial work is not that different. … Commercial work comes from a brand heart. The experience is that of the brand and the creatives, while the emotion is felt by the consumer. And make no mistake – creating an emotional tie to a piece of work is extremely important for a brand. Without the emotion, there is no relationship with the brand. And that is basically what a brand is – the relationship with the consumer.

There is a reason why creative directors hire film directors to work on their commercial endeavors. They want art infused into their commercial piece. This is no easy task. The voice of the brand and the client are always repeating rules and strategies even in the most creative creative directors. There is no way around it. But when you add that voice of the artist to the project, you get a voice more concerned with the emotion than the voices in their heads. The best film directors will fight with the creative director to make that art. And the best creative directors will let go of some things and fight for others that he/she knows are necessary for the communication. In the end, the project will become a commerce/art collaboration.

Sometimes the balance goes more toward commerce and sometimes more toward art. Sometimes, the emotion that comes from the art transfers to the brand and sometimes the brand overshadows the emotion created by the art. The best of these collaborations gives you both a brand communication and emotion.

If you look at the two ads below, you will see both art and commerce in them. “Stiff Upper Lip” is as close to some modern art as you will ever get in a television ad. It is mysterious, weird, and definitely pulls different emotions from the viewer like any modern art piece. There are those who don’t understand it, those who love it and many who hate it … but they can’t stop looking at it. And I would say the commercial is art until the commerce ending. I would say the same for the POM Wonderful spot. If you turned off the sound and cut off the product at the end, it’s a very artful piece of film. The composition, beauty, interest and emotion are all there with a product at the end or not.

Also, the digital landscape has opened up the creative avenues tenfold. Think about it. … Now there are brand films where artists are asked to interpret the brand. They are given more freedom because the cost of such films is less and a certain freedom is expected on the Web that isn’t expected as much on television. And, of course, Web films need an authenticity to be shared – and that authenticity means more art than commerce.

Then there is the whole definition of what art is in the first place and how it came to be. Art from the beginning was not always meant to be art. As a form of expression, it has changed with the times. And often, great art was commissioned from great artists. How is getting a portrait of yourself painted different from having a commercial done for your brand? There are obviously rules for both subjects. The artist can’t paint a portrait of someone else when you paid for a portrait of YOU … although a portrait from Picasso might look like someone else – depending on your perspective. The beginnings of art come from telling a story, almost a journal, of early man’s adventures during hunting season 30,000 years ago. These early paintings on caves could well have been advertisements. “Check out Mogu. … He is best at finding meat. He has big weapons. He has a cool cave. Wild animals and women fall at his feet.” Painted by Gred. Gred lives outside Mogu’s cave on a rock. But he paints a mean story about Mogu.

The first artists lived by a set of rules as to how they painted subjects. When they broke those rules, then the needle of art moved. And along the timeline, more rules were broken and art moved again. This is very close to the commercial world, where the rules are continually broken and changing – especially with the advent of a digital landscape that continues to evolve commerce and art as well.

This excerpt says it all. …

“… the lessons of Egyptian art had not simply been discarded and thrown overboard. Greek artists still tried to make their figures as clear in outline as possible, and to include as much of their knowledge of the human body as would go into the picture without doing violence to its appearance. They still loved firm outlines and balanced design. They were far from trying to copy any casual glimpse of nature as they saw it. The old formula, the type of human form as it had developed in all these centuries, was still their starting point. Only they no longer considered it sacred in every detail.” – E.H. Gombrich, The Story of Art

That is what a great director does for a piece of commerce. They don’t regard a brand’s rules as sacred in every detail. They are still working from the strategy. They are still trying to get across the right message for the brand. … But the things you hold onto as sacred about your brand … are not in the mind of that director. If he’s good, he’ll try and get you to break some sacred cow that sits in your mind, grazing away at the grey matter. Once that happens – anything is possible. …


Mission accomplished — and forever remembered

It took but only a moment for me to firmly decide in Group Therapy that winter morning, after falling in love with everything the Foundation is and stands for (R&R romanced me hard that day),  that I would be headed to Nicaragua this summer, to assist on Project El Crucero. It would cost some money and some PTO, but all of that could be sorted out later. I realized that this was the opportunity I had been itching for, and I had to take it. In a few short months, I’d bust out of the confines of my comfort zone and do what I could to improve the quality of life for another, even if only in a small way.

Screen Shot 2013-08-08 at 5.01.13 PMMy wildest expectations were surpassed this past June when a group of R&R employees and Friends of Tonner made the trip down to El Crucero, Nicaragua. For most of us, it was our first mission trip. We arrived to Managua hours after the sun had gone down, sweaty and tired, but ready. Our emotions ran the gamut: excited, nervous, anxious. But then, after 40 long minutes of curves and bumps and sweating on the ride up the mountain to El Crucero, we pulled up to the clinic on that first Sunday, and everything was peaceful, and right. Our hearts had led us to this point, and would lead us through it.

Our days were filled with small construction projects on the clinic itself, painting, making and sharing any kind of lunch we could with the food we had, kicking the soccer ball around, arts and crafts, and for the teens in the group (and Roy), leading many, many rounds of “Down By The Banks.”

IMG_7215On the off day we had from the clinic, we found ourselves really missing the kids. The lake was beautiful, the market was a blast (ask someone else on the trip if shopping with me is recommended or not), and the rest and relaxation was probably necessary. But it wasn’t the same as having one of the kids run and leap into your arms when you piled out of the van upon arriving at the clinic. Or the look in the eyes of the boy you gave a new pair of shoes. Or the mother who was in tears because all of her children were fed for a day.

They say 80% of communication is unspoken. None of us are fluent in Spanish, or even close, but conversation never ceased. We filled the holes in our dialogue with hugs, and smiles and laughs. I’ll say these were some of the most instantaneous, meaningful connections I’ve ever made.

Nica 210On the last day, we were able to leave everything we brought: the clothes we wore, the shoes off our feet. I experienced the single most touching moment of my life after giving my tennis shoes to a young teen boy who owned but only a single pair of shoes. They were black dress shoes, with the sole flapping as he walked. After I said, “para usted” to him and handed him the shoes, the look of gratitude on his face, the way he looked me directly in the eyes and said, “Thank you” in English, made me instantly tear up. I will never be eloquent enough to put into words the impact of that moment on me, and the others, as we gave our belongings away. If that were the only moment of the whole trip, it would have been worth it.

We pulled away from the clinic for the last time on Friday afternoon, with some of the kids chasing our van down the dirt drive. We had just held a BBQ for the families of the town, and said our long goodbyes. At dinner that night we reflected on the week as a whole, unanimously agreeing that it was life-changing. One thing is for certain, we’ll all be back next year.

We welcome and encourage you to consider this as part of your personal journey as well.



Contemplating my 59th birthday at the Electric Daisy Carnival

If you know what the Electric Daisy Carnival is, skip this paragraph.  I’m going to use it to bring those unaware of all things EDC up to speed. I’ll meet you in a hundred words or so.  For those who don’t know, the Electric Daisy Carnival is, as far as I know, the largest gathering of electronic dance music (EDM) fans and artists in the country, probably the world.  For three consecutive nights in June, 115,000 people gather in the infield of the Las Vegas Motor Speedway to dance, jump up and down, wander around and listen to more than 200 acts spread out over seven stages.  There are also a bunch of carnival rides, art installations and hundreds of actors roaming the grounds wearing incredible costumes, many of them riding on amazing contraptions.

edctopLast weekend, I was there for two of EDC’s three nights.  At this point, it’s appropriate to mention that I am 58 years old, which undoubtedly begs the question: What am I doing out there in the infield of a race track in the middle of the night with 115,000 people – most of whom are one-third to one-half my age – listening to the likes of Nicky Romero, Fake Blood, Dirty South, Destructo, Avicii, John Digweed and Tiesto?

Valid question.  There are a couple of reasons.  First, I am actually a fan of EDM.  Not every genre (and there are many genres.  If you don’t believe me, just search “EDM genres”), but I like a lot of it.  I listen to BPM and Electric Area on Sirius and my oldest son has actually been a DJ (mostly house music) for the last 12 years or so. I certainly don’t qualify as an expert, but I’m not a neophyte.

EDCI also enjoy new and distinctive experiences.  When something as big, overblown and bombastic as EDC is occurring literally 40 minutes from my front door, I’m going out of pure curiosity if for no other reason. In truth, curiosity is what brought me to my first EDC for one night in 2012.  I had so much fun, I returned this year for two.

So, what’s it like?  Big, overblown and bombastic.  What struck me the most was the sheer size and scale of it.  Most don’t realize how big the infield of a mile-and-a-half racetrack is – and EDC fills it.  Look at it this way.  The main stage, called Kinetic Field, was expanded this year to a capacity of 80,000.  One stage.  There are six others. Plus the carnival rides.  Plus the art installations.  Plus 115,000 people.  It’s big.  And in the course of a night, as you move from stage to stage, you do a lot of walking, mostly on concrete and dirt, and not a lot of sitting down.  Throw in dancing and jumping up and down, and it can be physically taxing.

imagexBut the fun never stops.  At EDC the music and the activity are constant. The stages are divided, for the most part, by genre: dubstep, drum & bass and other heavier stuff at the BassPod; clubby, danceable house and techno in the Circuit Grounds; harder, more aggressive techno (the kind that drills a hole in your chest) at BassCon; slower, more minimal and rhythmic stuff in the Neon Garden; a little bit of everything at the Cosmic Meadows; and the big guys – the Tiestos, Sander Van Doorns and Calvin Harrises – playing for crowds of 50,000 or more at Kinetic Field.  If you don’t like what you’re hearing at any given stage, there are six others going at the same time, all night long.  Off you go.

Yet still you might say, as many have, “You’re 58. Aren’t you just a bit… past that?”

EDC2I hope not.  First, let me say that the promoters of the event have done an amazing job.  Considering they are literally creating a throbbing, dancing city of 115,000 people crammed into one place for 10 hours a night, EDC runs like clockwork.  The sound and the lights at every stage are impeccable. The DJs start and finish on schedule. There are friendly, non-aggressive staff people everywhere to help with everything.  The police are cool. The medical personnel are professional and efficient.  And there are more Porta-Johns than I’ve seen at any event in my life. Not an insignificant detail. They’ve even addressed some of the parking and traffic issues that plagued them in previous years. There is nothing about it that isn’t professional and well managed.

imageWhich leaves the crowd.  I’ve been in crowds this large many times.  Led Zeppelin shows, rock festivals, NASCAR races, Superbowls, The Bay-to-Breakers. Never had any real problems. But I can say that the EDC crowd is the mellowest, friendliest, least aggressive group of 100,000 I’ve ever been a part of.  They smile, they laugh, they dance, and they take care of – and look out for- one another.  In two nights, I never saw a single person having harsh words with another, let alone a fight or any other nastiness.  Can’t say the same for many of the football games or rock shows I’ve attended (I once witnessed a fist fight between a guy and a girl at a System of a Down show at the Hard Rock. The girl beat the crap out of him. Female System of a Down fans are tough.).

The memorable thing about attending EDC was that many of them seemed genuinely amused by my presence.  I’m not saying I was the only person my age out there, but there weren’t many.  Still, I must have been asked more than a hundred times if I was having fun.  People smiled, offered me ice for the back of my neck (I declined), complimented my Daft Punk t-shirt and gave me a bunch of good old-fashioned high-fives.  It was as if I was some kind of old-guy mascot who had joined their tribe for the weekend. I felt absolutely no negativity. They were glad I was there to experience their music and they really wanted me to have a good time.  It was gratifying, in a neon bracelet, furry boots kind of way.

Of course, I did make some concessions to age.  The event lasts until 5:30 each morning.  I never got near that.  Bailed at midnight on Friday and 2:30 am on Saturday.  22-year-olds can go three days without sleep.  Not me.  But I did have a great time and have every intention of returning next year for EDC 2014.  I’ll be a few months from my 60th birthday then.  Maybe I’ll celebrate by going all three nights. Assuming I can find a way to get enough sleep.

UK Television Marketplace

Recently the LVCVA launched their new ad campaign in the UK, telling Brits to leave their stiff upper lip at home and come to Las Vegas. Here’s the video

As part of the plan, the LVCVA was able to enter back into the TV marketplace after 5+ years.  Through the planning process, we learned that the UK TV marketplace has some nuances to keep in mind when planning/buying. 

Some major differences:

  • The UK has a dominant state broadcaster, the BBC.  It draws large viewership, but they do not allow any advertising.
  • It is not unusual for some high-profile programs to deliver ratings in the 20+ range!
  • TV is reconcilable – if a program over-delivers in rating, advertiser pays the difference

              If The X Factor is forecasted to deliver 29 TVRs (same as TRPs in the US), and it delivers 36 TVRs, advertiser owes the network.
              If Coronation Street is forecasted to deliver 15 TVRs, but only delivers 12, network owes the advertiser 3 ratings

Some similarities:

  • There are both “Terrestrial” and “Multichannel” buying options:

          Terrestrial – similar to the major broadcasters in the US (ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC), their major broadcasters are ITV1, Channel 4, Five and ITV Breakfast

           ITV Breakfast is similar to the morning show daypart in the US (Today Show, GMA, etc.) but for whatever reason, the government thought there was going to be corruption when they started selling this, so it is its own separate entity.

            Multichannel – the equivalent of cable TV.  Like the US, there are a multitude of channels to pick from and many fall under larger saleshouses. 

            For instance, Sky Media owns Sky 1, FX, E!, Comedy Central, Style, Vh1, etc.

  • Like the US, share has been shifting from terrestrial to multichannel
  • TV generally skews female, old and lower income; however buying on certain multichannel networks allows for more refined targeting
  • Networks are motivated primarily by share-of-revenue, volume is less important

Season of Giving

“Life’s most persistent and urgent questions is: What are you doing for others? – Martin Luther King, Jr.

Our Reno office helps package food in the local food bank.

R&R Partners has again opened its hearts this holiday season! We are so proud of the kindness and generosity of our employees in every office and the charitable efforts of the R&R Partners Foundation.

R&R’s helping hands reached out from coast to coast! Our Washington, D.C., office chose two charities to assist: The Greg Gannon Canned Food Drive and Martha’s Table, both of which do incredible work for the hungry and underprivileged in our nation’s capital. For the Greg Cannon Canned Food Drive (in its 25th year), our folks in D.C. collected 85,000 cans and boxes of food. For Martha’s Table (where President and Michelle Obama served food the day before Thanksgiving), we donated a huge box of winter coats, toys and books.

In Los Angeles, employees donated 50 toys to area children.

Our Los Angeles office showed its holiday spirit with a toy drive that provided more than 50 toys for the Children’s Bureau.  In Reno, our team packaged food at the Food Bank of Northern Nevada.

In Las Vegas, R&R helped 68 children of Child Focus (a program of St. Jude’s Ranch for Children) receive gifts this holiday season, and many of our employees volunteered their time to help the local food bank, Three Square, and build a house with Habitat for Humanity. We also held a food drive for Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada.

R&R employees in Las Vegas help local food bank Three Square.

The R&R Partners Foundation has touched many lives throughout the holiday season (more on that soon). Although the year is coming to a close, R&R is committed to keeping that giving spirit all year long.  Here’s to giving in 2013!

This Week in Travel & Tourism — 11/5/2012


Future travel will include nontraditional destinations, study finds

Market research firm Euromonitor International has released the results of its “Global Trends Report,” which shows the world’s top emerging travel trends. The study says U.S. travelers will be increasingly drawn to destinations previously off-limits to foreigners, such as Myanmar, Cuba and North Korea. The travel industry is also expected to see a rise in “technology-free” vacation packages and trips that focus on relaxation.


Effect on tourism is a contentious issue in pro-marijuana measures

Measures that will loosen restrictions for the recreational use of marijuana in Washington state and Colorado have raised questions about its potential effect on local tourism, this feature says. Opponents in Colorado say the measure could have a negative effect on the state’s image. “If Colorado receives international media attention as the first state in the U.S. to legalize marijuana in their constitution, Colorado’s brand will be damaged and we may attract fewer conventions and see a decline in leisure travel,” said Visit Denver CEO Richard Scharf.


Norwegian Cruise Line will raise prices for Hawaii sailings

Norwegian Cruise Line has announced plans to increase fares on cruises in Hawaii. Prices for cruises aboard the Pride of America are scheduled to increase by about 10% starting Jan. 1, the cruise line says.

MGM Resorts and Royal Caribbean partner to offer more benefits to loyal members

MGM Resorts International and Royal Caribbean International recently launched a strategic partnership to benefit members of    both companies’ loyalty programs, MGM’s M life and Royal’s Crown & Anchor Society.


Holiday air, hotel bookings filling fast

Travel agents say demand for Thanksgiving, Christmas and other holiday travel is up sharply, and that travelers who don’t make plans early may face sold-out locations. “This is not a great year for procrastination,” said Simon Bramley, vice president at Travelocity, where Thanksgiving ticket purchases are up 9%.

AA offers double-mile rewards to compensate for flight disruptions

American Airlines has announced that frequent fliers will be getting double elite-qualifying miles for flights from through Dec. 31 to compensate for flight disruptions that passengers experienced during the carrier’s contract negotiations with its pilots. The airline appears to be nearing an agreement with leaders of the union, who hope to “reach a final agreement this week to be voted on by pilots,” this feature says.

Airlines seek new fees despite ancillary revenue increasing

Airlines earn ancillary revenue for extra baggage, Wi-Fi service and other goodies, and they stand to make 11.3% more in 2012 than they did with such fees the year before, this feature says. Major carriers will earn $36.1 billion in fees this year, according to a report by IdeaWorksCompany and Amadeus. But watch out for new charges. “The low-hanging fruit is gone; they are going to have to invent products,” says travel writer Joe Brancatelli.


Priceline to buy Kayak for $1.8 billion will buy travel metasearch company Kayak for $1.8 billion. Priceline will pay $40 a share for Kayak, including $1.3 billion in stock and $500 million in cash, the companies said Thursday afternoon.


Tropicana Las Vegas to become a DoubleTree by Hilton

Las Vegas’ Tropicana hotel will be reflagged in January as the Tropicana Las Vegas — a DoubleTree by Hilton, marking the first time a Hilton Worldwide-branded hotel will be on the Las Vegas Strip since Hilton spun off what would become Caesars Entertainment in 1998.

Mexico’s Interjet will add Las Vegas service this month

Mexican airline Interjet will begin service to McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas on Nov. 15. Flights will operate twice a week from Mexico City’s secondary airport in Toluca. The new route marks the fifth U.S. destination for the airline.