I’ve just spent a few days in Paris catching up with friends and professional contacts, which was lovely. It’s always a pleasure coming back to visit. A few weeks ago I was planning my trip and chatting with my good friend Elo whom I was going to be staying with.
Knowing my geeky disposition, she asked if I was coming for the first ever Paris Comic-Con event. I knew nothing about it, but seeing there were tickets still going for the Friday afternoon of the event we organised to go and check it out together. Being free to organise my own schedule is one of the great pleasures and privileges of working freelance.
I heard so much about the original Comic-Con in San Diego that I was defiinitely curious. The event has become the launch platform for all the new ideas spawned out of TV shows, the grounds for testing science-fiction, fantasy, and of course comic book adaptations into movies with all the might of Marvel’s cinematic Universe. From what I’ve read over time, it has become one of the largest marketing platform to reach fans and influencers for movie studios and all sorts of video content creators – oh and there’s some comic books to check out too. I had heard of impressive experiential marketing displays and events in San Diego, like for the latest Godzilla film. I didn’t really think anything in Paris would be as amazing as an interactive experience of the new Game of Thrones TV series season through an Oculus Rift virtual reality experience, but I guess I was still hoping for something memorable along those lines.
I’m not sure when it started being such a big thing, but these events also attracts a lot of attention for the people putting increasing amounts of efforts into hand crafting elaborate costumes to recreate the ones of their favourite fantasy, video game, or comic super hero characters. According to regular news and photo updates I’d come across that seemed to be the other thing to look out for when visiting. For some reason Brooklyn Brewery was sponsoring the Paris Comic-Con cosplay competition and promoting their Defender IPA beer. Apparently they had also sponsored the New York Comic-Con, they eem to have an deal with the event organisers. I get the name of the beer is super-hero-ish so it might be good exposure. At least I was there and the right audience to be interested in craft beer so I’m probably not the only one. I was very happy to taste a new IPA and it was the best beer deal available for purchase at the event, so bonus all round.
On a side note, I highly recommend reading Beer School. it’s the story of the Brookly Brewery and a brilliant business and branding book. It’s good to go find marketing and branding inspiration outside of the marketing and advertising industry itself. Did you know Milton Glaser designed their logo?
Back to comics, we have a strong culture of our own in France (and Belgium) when it comes to graphic novels. I was raised on Asterix, Tintin, and Lucky Luke. Once I finished on those and growing a little older I graduated to series like Lieutenant Blueberry, Black Moon Chronicles, and The Meta-Barons.
Alongside this, France was the first foreign country to import Japanese manga, and for studios to partner on co-creations. American comic books are historically less popular in France, whereas the Paris Japan Expo for manga and anime is absolutely huge. The international comics festival in Angoulême is the second largest event of its kind of Europe, attracting over 200,000 visitors every year. I was surprised Comic Con was coming to Paris; I guess the event is so successful it’s expanding everywhere. I was curious about their choice of venue. It was at La Grande Halle de la Villette, which is a good location but quite small for an event like Comic-Con.
Maybe it was their first and they didn’t want to take too much risks on the location size. Given they sold advance tickets on a website they must have known how many people were going to show up. So I think many people were surprised that for an opening time announced for 1:30pm on Friday, people were still queueing to get in 2:45pm and that the only thing to do after that was queue some more to get in the main conference room – which frankly wasn’t impressive in terms of size, just separated by what amounted to a curtain from the few and far between booths mostly selling graphic novels you can find in any book or specialty store. Apparently they have received a lot of complaints about this on the social media channels.
I was lucky to be able to miss all the queueing thanks to my friend Elo who did it in my place while I was having lunch on the other side of town, and I arrived right on time to get in the conference room for a talk with Jeff Mann, of Industrial Light & Magic / Star Wars fame. He made all the models for the original movies. By then she’d been queueing for over two hours. Unfortunately the talk was not impressive, the questions were pretty bland, it took time to translate into French and then he was quickly gone. Pretty disappointing. Even more so for her whohad been waiting all this time.
We checked a few stalls afte that, some cosplay costumes, and talked to the people managing the booth of Star Wars fans and cosplayers, the only worldwide organisation of fans to have official agreements to reproduce the costumes apparently.
We managed to attend a second panel with French Youtubers hosted by the French Nerd blog, launching a new web series, this time many fans were in attendance judging by the screams and ambient excitement. They screened the first episode of their new series. Elo and I looked at each other in obvious disbelief and perhaps feeling a little old and/or out of touch when the audience was so excited and we thought the whole thing was just dreadful. Poorly acted and just a bad or at least overused idea: A popular band taken over by zombie-like fans who calm down when they sing crappy pop music.
I was interested to see the show was financed by a department or company part of Endemol, a large television and media production company. I was just not into it whatsoever. In the words of Danny Glover’s The Lethal Weapon character Murtaugh: “I’m too old for this shit”. We left the conference section in bemused disbelief. The guy who seemed most excited about the whole thing was probably older than I am, so it’s probably not even an age thing. I just didn’t get it at all.
We were pretty much done by then, the event was closing down, and we were ushered out. I have to admit I’m not in a huge hurry to go to another one, though I’m really glad I’ve attended the first day of the first ever Comic-Con of my hometown of Paris. And to have been successfully targeted as a craft beer amateur at the event while I was at it.
Happy Back to the Future day! It’s finally (or already) here!
Back to the Future Part II is one of the first films I remember seeing at the cinema (along with Tim Burton’s Batman the same year), I was 10 years old. My elder brother Björn took me to see it in Paris, and just that was already special given we lived in the far suburbs. I remember to have been really impressed with the future it imagined. I can’t believe that day is already now.
I had fun watching this video of teens reacting to the movie. I thought it’s really interesting that Back to the Future features as an important movie reference for teenagers today, to the point where at least one says he can cite all the dialogue. Another insight in there is whatever the level of the technology we use every day, because it’s every day it immediately looses the appeal of something from the future. We take thing for granted very fast, and the teens in the video are growing with devices that were impossible not so long ago, like thirty years ago actually.
It would be easy to focus on our lack of flying cars and hoverboards, but we have a lot of the things in that future, the fashion is just a little different. Video conferencing, pocket digital devices, etc. No holograms at the cinema but 3D movies have made a come back. Voice activated commands aren’t ubiquitous but they exist. It’s funny how technology is evolving fast yet at the level of a short human life it seems like ages. We don’t have tiny pizzas growing into a huge one in a microwave but that’s probably a good thing. We do have retro-style arcade games bars, but no robot waiters just yet and they hadn’t planned for the hipster beard fashion.
I think smart clothes are an experimental thing though, I think they exist in a certain way. It’s easy with hindsight to say they were pretty optimistic about the technology advances for the movie, and so they should have anyways given it makes for more interesting TV, and they wanted to keep the story within the time of the characters lives, just one generation behind and in this case another ahead.
Of course everyone myself included is writing about Back to the Future Day, and why not. That said, and while I understand some would mention it because it’s of course a big pop culture memorabilia event today, of course brands are jumping on board with ridiculous statements in social media:
The Power of Frozen, seriously..? Please abstain. It’s unnecessary. You’re just asking for people to make fun of you Iceland Foods.
Gregg’s is a chain of baked goods in the UK in case you haven’t heard of it. This is one is even better, so you’re basically saying that your food is garbage to fuel the DeLorean from BTTF?
A few brands participated in the movie back then and might have a claim on some marketing activities, but for this kind of message I’d recommend abstaining from saying anything.
There are many more bad examples I’m sure I’m not even scratching the surface, I just came across these thanks to Chris via Twitter.
I enjoyed what Christopher Lloyd has to say about it as Doc Brown and I’ll finish with it, a simple message:
“The future has finally arrived. Yes, it’s different from we all thought, but don’t worry. It just means your future hasn’t been written yet. No one’s has. Your future is whatever what you make it, so make it a good one.”
In the past year I’ve had the chance to spend more time with my sister Saskia on her vineyard, Les Arabesques. She owns a small estate in the Roussillon region of the South of France. It’s about 30km west of Perpignan, between The Corbières and the Pyrénées mountains. She is committed to growing grapes and making wine in a traditional and natural fashion. It’s still very new, this year was her third harvest. I’ve had the chance to learn more about winemaking talking with her, and occasionally helping throughout the season – so I also got some practical experience of the process.
The first thing that keeps blowing my mind is the timeline she works to. All she does is dictated by nature and seasons. Every choice she makes has an influence over her potential livelihood for the following 12 to 18 months or so. She creates the best context and environment possible, maybe give things a nudge in the right direction, and lets nature do its work.
I know it’s always been that way, but I’ve never been particularly close to nature. I’ve been used to working in large cities and advertising agency offices where the briefs are due yesterday. Everything needs to happen faster and faster. Everyone is busy and power-walking around. As soon as I arrive in a city, I walk faster from the moment I get off the plane or train. I spend time with brand clients trying to understand and explain the evolution of consumer or purchase behaviours. Peering over new and popular technologies, networks or apps that may well be obsolete or irrelevant tomorrow. Obsolescence is a recurring theme, businesses even bake it in their products, or if not release new goodies on shorter and shorter cycles to always create news and needs.
My sister works with the seasons. The project cycle is a year or more and necessarily adaptive. While the general seasonal pattern is the same every year, and the tasks roughly take place in the same order, there are still a lot of variations depending on the weather. She has a direction in mind for her wines, though has to adapt to what nature throws at her.
Winter is pruning time. While the vines are sleeping it’s time for her to go through all her plots and snip off the unwanted branches. I spent a day with her last winter where I was “pre-pruning”. Basically just cutting off the major branches without going into the detail, which are important choices she makes herself. She told me pruning is the job where the most knowledge and experience is required. There are several techniques she learned while being trained in Burgundy and Provence. As I understood it, she visualises the path the sap will most probably take from the roots to the branches. This guides where she prunes to encourage the growth of branches that will bear the most and/or best fruits for the harvest. It is quite similar to pruning a bonsai actually. Now she is getting to know her vines better in the third year, she also has a better idea of the way they behaved in the last harvest, pruning also based on her experience. Most of that work is done by herself with her dog, in cold, windy yet often sunny weather. She says there’s something meditative about caring for her vines during that time of year that she really enjoys.
In parallel, winter is also time for several professional exhibits and shows. It takes a lot of time to make the wine, and it takes time to sell it too. This year she was invited to participate in what is often considered the best professional show for organic and natural winemakers, Renaissance des Appellations (Return to Terroir). The yearly event gathers many of the best natural winemakers, sommeliers, and wine importers from around the world.
And if that wasn’t enough work already, the wine from her previous harvest is slowly getting ready. She has to watch out for any sudden shifts in temperature that might upset the wine in the cellar, check and taste it on a regular basis. Christmas is luckily a quieter time where she can generally take a few days off, away from her cellar.
Spring time is mostly about fertilising and treating the vines, caring for them so that they’ll be able to be healthy, and resist trouble from fungi, diseases, or insects. That means going out before dawn to sprinkle the vines, as well as removing rocks and weeds from the plots. I tried removing weeds. It’s hard work. Stooped over with a small pickaxe hacking at the rocky terrain. It was another opportunity for her to make fun of my city like habits and general uselessness when it comes to most manual labour. It’s also bottling and labelling time for the wines from the previous harvest that are ready to be sold and drank. That’s where I’m more comfortable, particularly the drinking part of it.
The spring time work carries over into the summer, and then there’s a quieter time before harvest when many of the local winemakers can take a holiday, around late July or so. The rest is about selling wine, watching out for the weather, checking the progress of the growing fruits, watching out for any trouble that might take place, and generally gearing up for the harvest. I helped on the harvest for the first time this year. It’s tough work for the back, but it’s also a good time. It’s fun to be outside in the beautiful countryside, bantering with other grape pickers under the watchful eye of my sister’s partner. He plays the role of mock tough supervisor, to the tone of “I don’t want to see a single leaf in those baskets! We’re not brewing tea here, monsieur!”
Everything at that moment is crucial, from the grapes picked or set aside, to the choices made in the cellar. Are these grapes ready to be harvested yet? How much sugar content do they have now and how does that compare with the alcohol level I’m aiming for? How many days should these grapes ferment before being pressed? With or without the stems? These are only a few of the questions she has on her mind at that time of year. There might be more bottling beforehand too, for the wine from the previous year that wasn’t ready for consumption yet, and to make space in the cellar for the new wine.
I learned that grapes for rosé and white wine are pressed immediately after being harvested. Grapes for red wines can be pressed later, the when and how depends on the kind of wine being made. I tried the age old tradition of stomping on grapes, which is both harder work than it seems and pretty satisfying. It’s not just folklore, it serves an important purpose. Given the grapes have just been picked, the berries are still firm. The press works from the top down and is flat. Stomping the berries helps more grape juice to be extracted. If they aren’t stomped then a lot of berries can be stuck at the bottom without being pressed, and you can lose a lot of juice.
As soon as the excitement of the harvest is passed, it’s already autumn and time to keep in contact with her clients, as well as find new ones. Most wine cellars and restaurants start ordering and stocking up for the end of year holiday season. Meanwhile she also has to watch out for this year’s wine fermentation progress. Update Facebook with new photos from the harvest. Watch out for any press or worthwhile professional show opportunities. Then of course there’s the joys of year-end admin and finance.
And the cycle starts again.
As a strategist an important part of my job in advertising is to synthesise everything I learn from research for a particular brand in order to provide a direction for the creative team. While I might have the chance to do some research with people and try a product or service before a write a brief, I rarely have that much time to really experience it in the way I have with the vineyard in the past year, and even then I’ve probably only skimmed the surface. That said, I certainly have a new appreciation for working with nature that I hope I’ll be able to take into account for future work.
What I’d write in a brief is traditionally called a single-minded communication, or proposition. Most of the time it’s one sentence, as short and inspiring as possible. It encapsulates the main message to be communicated.
In this case It might be a shame to try and summarise something as complex as this process to a single short sentence. It would be near impossible to do it justice. Traditionally made wine like my sister’s should really be tasted (I recommend getting advice from a professional in a wine cellar or restaurant to try a good one). Each one is unique. You won’t necessarily like every one you try, but you’ll find one that you enjoy. If you get into it you might even have a hard time going back to mass produced wines.
Fortunately I don’t have to write a short sentence here. If you’ve read this far you may well be the kind of person that will remember and appreciate the amount of work that goes into these wines when you taste one.
I had organised to meet my friend James in Borough Market last month while I was in London. It used to be one of my main haunts for a few years, while I worked at iris. I lived nearby so I could be in walking distance to the office. I was already salivating at the idea of eating one of Kappacasein’s famed grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch. I hadn’t had one in two years, and I think it’s still the best in town. I know some have tried to imitate them. I remember trying a grilled cheese sandwich in Maltby Street Market last year and it wasn’t as good. But I digress.
It was a lovely sunny morning and the streets around Borough Market were already crowded. I hopped off a bus at London Bridge and quickly made my way over to the tube exit where we’d organised meeting, thinking I was already late. I just about walked past a sign, my brain assembling bits of information at the same time.
FREE. Ice cream. Insect-like icon?
I stopped and turned around to check the red sign. Given the name of this blog, you can imagine I just can’t ignore a promotional sign advertising free ice cream, with the added intrigue of an insect looking icon. It piqued my curiosity. It’s like they made it for me. It’s a funny feeling to know or imagine that you are the target audience of a piece of communication. I didn’t think that on the spot. A that first moment I was just intrigued and curious enough to stop, and then excited about the promotion.
As I looked at the sign, a guy in a red shirt smiled at me, asked if I wanted to try the insect ice cream, and handed over a flyer featuring The Economist logo. Now the red made sense. The insect ice cream still didn’t.
I smiled back and said something like: “Hi! Really!? But what does The Economist have to do with giving out free insect ice cream?”
You might have come across the promotion already, I checked as I’m writing this and I see this promotion garnered some press in London and Hong Kong over the summer.
They went on to explain that The Economist had run a feature about the future of food being insects, and that they thought it would be a fun device to sell a promotional offer for The Economist: 12 weekly issues for £12 and a free book.
Only a few months before, my brother’s business partner Omar had featured an insect dish in his fun “Nipponexican” inspired menu for his two-week chef’s residency at Carousel. He gave a short speech about insects being a sustainable future for food worldwide before serving a grasshopper taco. I was tuned in to the idea.
There were two flavours available, and that’s when I realised it was “normal” flavoured ice cream with insect bits, rather than insect flavoured ice cream. Chocolate with grasshopper bits, and strawberry with mealworms. My mate James was running late so I had time to chat with the friendly attendants taking care of the promotion while tasting the ice cream. It was pretty good, just like good ice cream with crunchy bits.
I’ve tried crickets and grasshoppers a few times now, and I find it has a kind of texture that breaks. I might have small flat bits that get stuck in my teeth. Other than knowing I was eating insects, it didn’t that make much difference to the ice cream flavour. I recommend trying insects out if you have the opportunity. It’s like most food in that it really depends how it’s prepared – once you get over what it looks like.
Now back to the promotion and feeling like I’m the target audience. By the time my friend James arrived and was also trying the ice cream I had signed up for the promotion. He told me he was already a subscriber. This is a little embarrassing. I like to think I’m the kind of person that reads The Economist. Except I’m really the kind of person that very rarely buys magazines and doesn’t go beyond paywalls online. The fact is I rarely read The Economist, even if I like the idea of it. I mostly stopped buying print magazines when I was still a teenager, and now I have so many articles online to read for free I don’t bother paying for subscriptions. I’m also not loyal to any one publication. I must have read like three articles on the website since I subscribed. Paying £12 isn’t enough to change my reading behaviour, which is kind of interesting in itself.
However I am sensitive to ice cream and intriguing promotions. I think the main lesson here is that if you really bother thinking about your promotional activity with a specific kind of person in mind then it doesn’t feel like a hard sell on the receiving end. That also means the risk of excluding the people who just won’t go near insect ice cream, by the way. I think it’s better than a middle road of nobody caring at all. I enjoyed spending a few minutes having a new experience, a useful book (Pocket World in Figures), and the opportunity to trial The Economist. That alone was probably worth my time and money.
A couple of weeks ago I attended an evening at Google for a Firestarters event about content marketing & complexity. These events are curated by Neil Perkin and the few I have been able to attend so far have been excellent. I was looking forward to this one to hear Dave Trott speak. He was brilliant, as were the other speakers, Doug Kessler and Sarah Richards. It was also good to catch up with a few acquaintances in the industry.
For the past several years I’d decided not to worry about my blog’s content. Whatever I fancied writing about and publicly sharing is here. It has been more about my travels than thinking of business lately.
Now I’m working independently, I feel I should write more thoughtful posts. I can tend to be lazy to think and write about it. I find it easier on a client deadline and with a group of people to talk with or present to. I find it more difficult to think by myself in front of a blank page. I want to keep practicing and improving at it though.
Dave reminded us to keep things simple in his talk. At one point he also mentioned that different platforms are probably good for different types of things. He has 140 characters on Twitter so tends to write funny things, that may have more impact and drive the interested people to a longer article via a link, for example.
I also listened to a Q&A from Paulo Coelho this past weekend, and learned the author manages his social media presence mostly by himself. He made an interesting comment about the formats of different online platforms and the kind of opportunities they offered for writers. The theme running on his Twitter account seems to be motivational phrases or quotes, sometimes with images. Ironically his last tweet at the time of writing states:
Success comes to those who do not waste time comparing what they are doing with what others are doing.
I’ll argue I’m not exactly comparing, only noting that his Twitter feed seems to specialise in a certain type of writing that of course fits the 140 character format well.
This is how I’ve been thinking of what I’m writing and where I’m publishing it. In short I’m weighing the merits of a content strategy for my writing while wanting to keep things simple and consistent.
Let’s start with what I tend to write about. I know I am particularly interested in these topics:
- Strategy, communications, marketing, and business innovation – that’s already pretty vast
- Tabletop games (board games, card games, role-playing games), and wider thinking about integrating playful elements in other areas like education or business (I am wary of the term “gamification” which can be the object of another post)
- Science-fiction and fantasy
- Craft beer and home brewing
- Personal experiences and stories – which can admittedly blend in with any of the above topics.
I only had to look through my library to make sure I have the right topics, almost every book I own fits in one of those.
Point 6 is what I’ll be focusing on in my upcoming email newsletter, the reasoning is that an email is a one on one message so hopefully a good place to share personal stories while possibly integrating other things too.
I can simply keep writing all kinds of topics here, though a few people have also recommended writing on Medium and Linkedin Pulse. I wonder if those platforms could be more appropriate for some topics or styles of writing.
So far I’ve only reposted things from this blog on there. Linkedin Pulse has garnered far more views on the same post compared with Medium: 83 to 1. That was for my previous post about the newsletter. I also re-posted something I’d written about traveling on Medium and that has 12 views, 11 of which come from posting the link on my social networks. This last post was more promotional in nature and perhaps not of sufficient quality for Medium, or maybe just more relevant for Linkedin. In any case it raises interesting questions about the best platforms for my writing.
Out of curiosity I’m going to do more testing about this in the coming weeks, and see whether Linkedin or Medium might work better for writing about certain topics, and try out a few things with Twitter as well. It won’t be particularly exhaustive or even that objective research. I hope to discover a few interesting things and share what I find out here. Given my main goal is to write more, that should be achieved whatever the results of the experiments are.