Pop is Short for Popular

Pop life

Whilst I was in London last week I popped into the the Tate Modern and experienced the awesome Pop Life exhibition.

It's dead good - and not just because some of the rooms are 18+ only [always a good sign]. 

[Dear FCC - this is an unsolicited endorsement. I just thought it was good. I bought a ticket and everything.]

One of my favorite pieces was created just for the show - a music video, shot by McG, conceived and styled by Murakami, starring Kirsten Dunst, for the song Turning Japanese [I think I'm turning Japanese] by The Vapors.

[It's not online yet but you can see some shots from it here - kawaii!]

There's some really interesting exegesis about Warhol and his approach to business as art.

Recently I got asked some questions about Warhol and so I did a bit of research so I wouldn't look too stupid.

He was a branding genius, he turned himself into a brand very consciously, decades before social media somehow got Julia Allison a role in a Sony TV commercial

He wasn't doing this just to appease his childhood insecurities [although that was probably part of it].

It was because he approached art as a business:

Making money is art and working is art and good business is the best art. - A Warhol

In his book - The Philosophy of Andy Warhol - he makes the branding point even more explicitly.

He talks about being jealous of

'Levi and Strauss. I wish I could invent something like blue jeans. Something to be remembered for. Something mass.'

This i think is awesome - art not for the elite but for everyone - but also very commercially minded.

It's echoed in a quote from Posh Spice - who said she wanted to be 'as famous as persil' - as Bullmore pointed out ages ago. Packaged goods brands are more famous than any celebrity will ever be.

Let's return to the 18+ room.

In 1991, Jeff Koons wrote a letter to Italian porn star turned politician [only in Italy - although if Jenna Jameson ran...] Cicciolina and invited her to make some art with him.

During the making of this art - which consists of idealised and very graphic images and sculptures of them having sex as a kind of postlapsarian Adam and Eve - they fell in love and got married and created a very compelling myth around the artworks.

Now - whilst Koons was famous in the 80s, after this he became really very famous indeed.

[There are few things guaranteed to create headlines around the world, but this has to come very close.]

And then he also happened to become the most expensive living artist in the world at auction.

All the POPular artists featured - especially Damien Hirst - understood that the value any work of art is entirely socially created - it only has value because we agree that it does.

Which means that the entire art industry is predicated on a very simple value equation:

People will pay more for something they have heard of.

Correspondingly, the more people have heard of the artist, and his work, the more it is worth.

So the business of art is fame, to become popular, to make itself famous, to create brands.

As you may have guessed, I think this mechanism underlies a lot of culture, and advertising and that.

KickStart an Album (Creativity is a Process)

KickStarter is a funding platform website thing for artists, designers, musicians, filmmakers and other creative types to fund specific creative projects. It's not an investment vehicle, you don't get to own a share of whatever is made. Instead, the creators offer special incentives to donate money to their cause in a way that leverages their talents and helps them progress their project.

An example, by way of illustration.

My mate Allison Weiss is a singer songwriter who is crowdsourcing the funding for her album using KickStarter.

She's a very charming young citizen of the internet who is carving out a music career without any involvement from record labels.

She creates her own videos - she trained as a graphic designer - and uses Tumblr and Twitter to share her life with her fans.

Because she has a direct relationship with people that she has developed online, she has thus far raised $6000 to record an album.

And if you donate, depending on your donation level, she will create specific things for you.  Pledges of $50 get a name check in the sleeve notes, $500 will get you your own song.

Billboard recently picked up on what Allison was up to - and if you donate now [the deadline is the 1st August] she may hit her new target before the final countdown.

One of the very disruptive things the Internet does to the media business is radically disrupt the economics of content.

The hit-driven portfolio investment economics can be supplanted by the engagement audience collaboration model espoused by artists like Allison, who nurture their fan base, creating genuine relationships with people, who are then willing nay happy to fund her creative endeavors.

But another awesome thing it does is expose the fact the creative things are not really things. Especially with a digital creative thing, it is perhaps better thought of as a process.

Imogen Heap is another artist using Twitter to open up the process of recording an album to her fans, bringing them into the process, seeking their input on the process, giving them collaborative ownership of the process.

[Wired Magazine referred to this as 'Tapping the Hive Mind' in the most recent issue, which brings all kind of weird images to my mind.]

The process is, in itself, interesting. And that process has gaps, that allow people to include themselves into it in different ways, something I've previously suggest might be a good model for certain kinds of advertising.

The viewing audience likes things, the doing audience likes processes.

Really Interesting Things From the Internet

Things on the internet

[Picture by Ben, from here]

Russell and Ben have made a very nice thing.

[In a previous life, Ben once won me in a competition. True story.]

They've taken some of the things that their friends have written on the internet they liked the most and made them into a kind of newspaper.

You can read all about it [see what I did there?] here and here.

They've sold out now I'm afraid but the site of the Really Interesting Group is here.

I've been thinking about the primacy of paper. Things in print have more cultural significance still - partially due the peer review requirements, partially due to cultural conservatism, but partially I think for the same reason that books are better than ebooks [for the time being] - thingness.

That is - if all digital things are in state of potential flux - palimpsestic - then printed things are the opposite - they are the reified forms of information - static, fixed, final and very much things, in a way that digital things are not things.

As my mate Bruce said this morning - in a hundred years you won't be able to find a playback device for a DVD [have you got a cassette player handy? Laserdisc player?] but you will still be able to read the printed word.

If the paper survives. Apparently vellum is much longer lasting.

Previously newspaper content was replicated online. Now online content flows out into paper via cheap on demand printing. Soon content will just flow everywhere, depending on how you want it.



Every since Frankie Said Relax, the power of T-shirts as tools of self expression has been well established.

Web businesses like Threadless and Ninjazoo use t-shirts as a substrate for user generated design.

But personalisation doesn't need to rest in the hands of those with design skills - it can be about places you love, or indeed what music you love.

I/denti/tee launched today in partnership with Mr and Mrs. Bono's Edun Live, offering a form of musically connected product.

The project is looking to establish what the greatest lyrics of all time beginning with "I" are - and are selling t-shirts with I lyrics on so you can wear your selection with pride.

In partnership with iTunes you also get ten free music downloads and the Edun Live supplies means the Tees are organic cotton grown and sewn in sub-saharan Africa - making this is GOOD THING.

With Flickr in Mind


Street art has long been a favoured subject for the ever-growing shutterbug swarm - this grossly/wonderfully simple piece highlights this - and the increasingly dynamic interplay of offline and on that digital devices enable.

While read/write culture usually refers to digital content that is easily repurposed, it equally applies to the art of public spaces.


Hello Boys


My brother got me this book about 60's American advertising for Christmas [thanks dude!].

There's a lot of interesting stuff in there but the one that jumped out at me, so to speak, was the Maidenform ad.

The Maidenform "I dreamed" campaign ran for 20 years, ending only as the 60s did, featured proud young women dreaming of fantastical situations enabled in some unspecified way by their bras.

It sparked controversy and conversation at the time, just as Wonderbra did with their simplified poster version of the same endlessly fascinating image.

A feminist reading would see it as oppressive and exploitative - women dream of adventures, usually in roles associated with men [cowboy, fireman, toreador]  - whilst a fashion analyst would be more interested in the bullet shaped cones that vanished for decades, only to be re-introduced by Madonna / Gaultier in the 80s.

The whole book reflects the values and aspirations of their times.

And whilst treating the body of advertising of an age as purely reflective is misleading [the civil upheaval of the 60s is rarely evident - 60s advertising feels more like a weird nostalgia for the already idealised 50s] it certainly provides a window into what concerned the dominant discourse of the day.

Advertising operates in the realm of hopes and dreams and myths - these are the levers used to motivate purchase decisions.

The ads of the 60s seem obsessed with space, with women, with sophistication, with domesticity, with really big cars.

I wonder what our ads say about us.

Idea Immunity and the Meme War

So I posted about Preferential Looking, which led Andy to point me at this framework of intelligence, which suggests that that reason we fixate on the unexpected stimuli is because it doesn't conform to our predictive model of reality:

If your expectations about the door are violated, the error will cause you to take notice. Correct predictions result in understanding. The door is normal. Incorrect predictions result in confusion and prompt you to pay attention.

Prediction is not just one of the things your brain does. It is the primary function of the neocortex, and the foundation of intelligence. The cortex is an organ of prediction.

This reminded me of an idea previously mooted by Dan Dennet:

the fundamental purpose of brains is to produce future…brains are, in essence, anticipation machines

Which in turn led me to the above awesome TED video, where he points out that growing up in a free, meme-rich, culture leads us in the West to develop an immunity to ideas, and that the war on terror is really a meme war.

One thing leads to another.

Attention Marketing


I saw this sticker advertising stickers and it made me chuckle. In some ways it's brilliant tactical media planning, right at the point of need, use, consumption.

But the invasion of non-commercial spaces, borrowing attention from toasters, is fraught with its own problems. You know how sometimes things just feel wrong?

Maybe that's creative / cultural blinking instinct kicking in. Maybe the stickers just need to be less lame.

When I was young, before the Cadbury Gorilla, people used to declaim the use of borrowed interest.

The thinking was that using 20 seconds to tell an unrelated joke, and 10 seconds to sell, was not a great idea.

And whilst this seems sensible, or did until the Gorilla, it didn't really sit well with me, since all interruption marketing is borrowing attention from the content it is interrupting.

Apart from posters, which increasingly I think of differently to other media. [There's a different kind of contract being struck with viewers, whether or not you think they have the right to exist at all.]

Which is why, as we know, things are so different now. We can't really buy attention anymore - people have got too good at not paying us any. We have to earn it.

Previously, the implicit value exchange - free content in exchange for watching ads - enabled the balanced value exchange between brands and people.

This model is best encapsulated by Homer Simpson:

Quiet, the commercial is on… if we don’t watch these, it’s like we’re stealing TV!

But that relationship has begun to breakdown in an on demand world, requiring a more explicit earning of attention.

Which is why I really liked the way Anthony Mayfield [at IAB Engage - I've put a bunch of slides up on Flickr] described the internet as an Attention Market.

It's been a decade since Wired realised that we are in an attention economy. Mass media lowered the cost to the point where significantly more ads can be transmitted to a 'consumer' than any person can process. Therefore, the relatively scarce resource needing allocation becomes attention.

The internet is a live, global attention market, dynamically allocating attention to those things that earn it best in near real-time. The speed of response has a corresponding diminution on the longevity of attention - everything becomes a flash in the pan. [This is just an acceleration of an existing trend - when gramaphone records replaced sheet music the record industry noticed a a distinct truncation in the longevity of hits.]

This of course puts the structure of the industry at odds with the attention market - we need a constant stream of new new things to maintain salience.

Understanding how attention is being allocated across the market is the next big frontier of analytics: Google trends, blog mentions, behavioural targeting - all attempts to track, understand, follow and then predict the allocation of attention.

This data has value - in fact its the driving value behind Google and Facebook - real, behavioural attention market data.

The Attention Trust  wants to wrestle that value back for the individual - imagine if you could actively trade attention, receiving value in return.

Back during gold rush of the web, a company called All Advantage tried to redress the attention issue and balance the value exchange by paying people watch ads. It also compensated members for promoting the site, which made it grow rapidly - one of the first viral marketing success stories.

The company died - I don't think paying people to watch ads is the right way to think about value - we'll see if it works in mobile credit - although it may have grown into a Nielsen if the ad bubble had collapsed so hard.

Thinking about value that way feels analogous to paying someone to be your friend - it's still buying attention, not earning it.

It time for brands to realise we are operating in an attention market and their money ain't no good here.

Welcome to the age of attention marketing.

Read Write Culture

My obsession with the remix is pretty well established.

I believe that culture is recombinant, that new ideas come from remixing old ones, that stealing is genius, but copying is lame.

That taking something and making it into something else constitutes fair use, that preventing it will ossify our culture and that thinking that way will render you obsolete, painted into a copyright corner.

That, like the postmodernists, you can attempt to create a higher order of meaning by standing on the semantic foundations of other creations, employing referents rather than starting from scratch.

That all culture is implicitly a comment on that which has come before. 

That the remix is the very nature of digital [to steal from Gibson, the sage of the age], of copy and paste, of hypertextual linking, of the internet.

I'm an especially big fan of enticing those pesky, fickle consumers we spend so much time begging for attention [like a child doing handstands and begging its parents to look, always being disappointed and crying "Hey your not looking!", half indignant half heartbroken] into messing with our ideas. I think it's crucial.

If people are interested in messing with our ideas, that's awesome: they are paying us some attention. And if people add something of themselves to what we do, that gives them a reason to pass it on.

In one of the new batch of TED talks, Larry Lessig explains the whole thing more eloquently than I could hope to, with better slides.

[Thanks Saul]