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Yearly Archives: 2015

An Accessory Brand Made by Fashion Outsiders

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While they’ve been cited — alongside fellow young labels like Mansur Gavriel and Kara — as part of the minimalist, anti-“It”-bag movement, sisters Kimberly and Nancy Wu don’t consider their emerging accessories brand Building Block to be minimal.

“I struggle with that label,” says Kimberly. “We don’t want to put excess product in the world, so we try to make sure everything we produce is wanted, needed, and has validity to be owned by someone, but to be labeled as a minimal brand would be surface-level.” Instead, she prefers the term “considered accessory.” Building Block takes an alternative approach to luxury and functionality — editing out the hardware and beautifying the bare bones. The handbags (and shoes, a recent addition) play with geometry while exposing features that aren’t usually considered luxe — rubber tubing, unfinished wooden objects, clear acrylic Lucite, and utility canvas. “Our bags speak to women who don’t traditionally like handbags,” Kimberly sums up.


Photo: Jessica Comingore/ Jessica Comingore 2011

Finding themselves bored with the “throwaway” fashion mentality and in search of a quality functional bag that wasn’t necessarily on-trend, the sisters started making their own bags four years ago. They both had design experience, but not in fashion: Kimberly was in Tokyo designing concept cars for Honda, and Nancy lived in Portland and designed shoes for Nike. The two exchanged sketches over Skype, while Kimberly found the materials, constructed the bags, and uploaded them to her blog. “It started off as ‘some girl in Japan’s experimental bags,'” Kimberly recalls. “But when stores started becoming interested we started talking about doing this for real.” They relocated to Los Angeles (where they grew up and went to school, at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena), found manufacturers in Taiwan, and opened a studio and concept-store space with their friends Kristin Dickson-Okuda and Shin Okuda of Iko Iko. Building Block is now sold at various concept stores and online boutiques — including Opening Ceremony, Net-a-Porter, and the MoMA store.

The Wus’ shared background in industrial design underlies their approach to making handbags, which is a far cry from most designers’. No mood board, no trend reports — the designers are inspired by shapes, buildings, even product packaging, and create 3-D mock-ups in their studio to send out to their manufacturer. On their clean, simple e-commerce site, the accessories are simply listed under “products.” They hope to expand to furniture, watches, and men’s accessories in the future. “With industrial design, you’re thinking about the way that this product will affect the person using it,” Kimberly said. “It’s a lot about ergonomics and usability. We approach [making handbags] that way versus ‘This is just a bag that will sell well for the time being.’


The sisters answered our Taste Test to gauge some of their fashion, architecture, and car preferences. 

Nike Huaraches or Nike Air Max 90s?
Nancy: Huaraches.
Kimberly: Neither.

Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao or Frank Lloyd Wright’s Guggenheim Museum in New York City?
Nancy: New York City.
Kimberly: New York City.

Favorite thing to do while sitting in L.A. traffic?
Nancy: Listen to 93.5 KDay: old-school hip-hop.
Kimberly: Sing.

Favorite place to find inspiration in L.A.?
Nancy: Swimming in the ocean.
Kimberly: Alias Books in West L.A.

The colorful buildings in Havana or the modern architecture in Dubai?
Nancy: Cuba.
Kimberly: Cuba.

Square or cylinder?
Nancy: Cylinder.
Kimberly: Cylinder. 

Legos or Jenga?
Nancy: Legos.
Kimberly: Legos.


‘No One Should Have The Right To Prolong My Death’

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Jennifer Glass found out she had lung cancer four months after she got married. Here, her first round of chemo in February 2013.i

Jennifer Glass found out she had lung cancer four months after she got married. Here, her first round of chemo in February 2013.

 

Jennifer Glass found out she had lung cancer four months after she got married. Here, her first round of chemo in February 2013.

When Jennifer Glass goes to Sacramento on Tuesday to deliver testimony in favor of the California End-of-Life-Options Act, the trip will require some complex logistics.

Her 17-year-old stepson, Tristan, will bundle her into her car and get behind the wheel to drive the two hours from her home in San Mateo, just south of San Francisco. Glass, 52, hopes she’s up to the physical challenge. These days even going downstairs for a glass of orange juice means, as she put it the other day, that “I have to plan for that, I have to rally for that, and then I gotta go up and rest from that.”

Glass’s testimony in support of the right to die is an intensely personal one. She was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2013, and last month she learned it had become resistant to the oral Tarceva she was taking; the cancer is now in both lungs and in her liver, abdomen, pelvis, cervix and brain.

She is now on a new drug regimen including carboplatin, a big-guns chemotherapeutic agent that has really set her back: she says she feels profound exhaustion, has a constant, debilitating headache and is aware of poison “permeating” her body — the poison of the chemo and the poison of the cancer itself.

So her work on behalf of the bill, SB-128, has taken on a new urgency.

The bill, the most recent in a long line of such bills that have been introduced in California since 1995, passed the state Senate in early June by a vote of 23 to 15. The Assembly’s health committee is scheduled to vote on it Tuesday after hearing testimony from Glass and a few others, including the mother of Brittany Maynard, the 29-year-old California woman with brain cancer who moved to Oregon so she could end her life on her own schedule. She died last November.

If the bill passes the committee, it moves to the Assembly’s judiciary and appropriations committees, after which the whole Assembly has until Sept. 11 to vote on it. From there it would it go to Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk for his signature; neither the bill’s supporters nor its opponents seem to know how he leans on the issue.

Glass’s cancer interrupted her life as a newlywed. She’d had an active career in corporate communications and was an inveterate traveler and a devoted Aunt Jen to her sisters’ kids when she met Harlan Seymour, a software engineer, on Match.com in 2010. They had no intention of marrying, but after they moved in together, everything was so “natural and wonderful,” Glass recalls, that she suddenly realized “I wanted to be his wife.” She was 49 years old, and had never felt that way before. She and Seymour married in August 2012.

Four months later, just as she was getting used to being a wife — and to being a stepmother to Tristan, then 14, who lived with them half time, and Eloise, then 4 and living primarily with her mother in Chicago — Glass was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer. “Seriously, who’s writing these punch lines?” she wondered aloud. “The cosmic irony of it all did strike me.”

As 2013 began, her days became consumed with chemotherapy, radiation, marshaling her declining energy, living the best life she could in the time she had left, and finding a way to avoid a painful and debilitating ending.

“I’m not afraid of death,” she told me. “I have been comfortable with the concept of my own mortality for a long time, long before my diagnosis.”

But what she is afraid of, she said, is the particular brutality of a cancer death, “drowning in my own lung fluids with my family watching me suffer.” Her husband knows about such death first hand, having watched both his parents die from cancer — something he and Glass talked about on their very first date.

The couple did a lot of Googling looking for “what our options might be, looking for a peaceful exit that would be a pill or cocktail I could take that would allow me to go to sleep at the time of my choosing.” But no such pill or cocktail existed legally in California. “I felt like it was up to me to jerry-rig this, to find my way around the system because I didn’t find the system acceptable.”

Glass remembered the advocacy group Compassion Choices from having watched a documentary a few years earlier called How to Die in Oregon. She contacted them to see if they could help her find a way to die on her own schedule. Later, when her cancer had stabilized, she became an unpaid volunteer for the organization. This has included speaking publicly on behalf of SB-128.

With her husband, Glass created “One Year With Lung Cancer,” a video composed of one photograph a day of Glass going through her treatments, with musical accompaniment from Glass’s brother, Lawrence. She also blogs about cancer for The Huffington Post, and started a second career as a motivational speaker, giving talks at spas in Arizona and Mexico.

Seymour took early retirement from his tech job and the couple settled into a routine, as far as the treatment schedule would allow. They worked in their shared home office in the morning, met for lunch, went together to the gym where Glass swam and Seymour lifted weights, and returned home for dinner with Tristan. Many evenings they took an after-dinner walk.

“The days are really lovely,” she said at the time, “except for this part where I have cancer.”

Now her focus is on getting SB-128 passed. “I’m doing everything I can to extend my life,” she said at a press conference from the state capitol building last January, when the bill was introduced. “No one should have the right to prolong my death.”

Glass is already suffering a good deal, but she said it’s too soon to decide how much suffering would be enough to make her start thinking about hastening her death. Her plan now is to tough it out through the grueling chemotherapy, which usually takes four to six months. “Then we’ll see where I am,” she said.

“But regardless of whatever happens to my cancer,” she added, “it would be an enormous relief to me if this bill passes in September and the governor signs it.”

The earliest the law could go into effect is January 1, 2016, which might turn out to be too late to help her directly. But even if she doesn’t live to see it implemented, Glass said, knowing it was on the horizon “means I would have the rest of my life when I would be able to live in peace.”


Bill Cosby said he got drugs to give women for sex

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Bill Cosby admitted in 2005 that he got quaaludes with the intent of giving them to young women he wanted to have sex with, and that he gave the sedative to at least one woman and “other people,” according to documents obtained Monday by The Associated Press.

That woman and a second woman testified in the same case that they knowingly took quaaludes from him, according to the unsealed documents.

The AP had gone to court to compel the release of the documents from the deposition in a sexual abuse lawsuit filed by former Temple University employee Andrea Constand — the first of a cascade of sexual abuse lawsuits against him. Cosby’s lawyers had objected on the grounds that it would embarrass their client.

Cosby settled that lawsuit under confidential terms in 2006. His lawyers in the Philadelphia case did not immediately return phone calls Monday. Constand consented to be identified but did not want to comment, her lawyer said Monday.

Cosby, 77, has been accused by more than two dozen women of sexual misconduct, including allegations by many that he drugged and raped them in incidents dating back more than four decades. Cosby has never been criminally charged, and most of the accusations are barred by statutes of limitations.

Cosby, giving sworn testimony in the lawsuit accusing him of sexual assaulting Constand at his home in Pennsylvania in 2005, said he got seven quaalude prescriptions in the 1970s. The lawyer for Constand asked if he had kept the sedatives through the 1990s — after they were banned — but was frustrated by objections from Cosby’s lawyer.

“When you got the quaaludes, was it in your mind that you were going to use these quaaludes for young women that you wanted to have sex with?” lawyer Dolores M. Troiani asked.

“Yes,” Cosby answered on Sept. 29, 2005.

“Did you ever give any of these young women the quaaludes without their knowledge?”

Cosby’s lawyer again objected, leading Troiani to petition the federal judge to force Cosby to cooperate.

Cosby later said he gave Constand three half-pills of Benadryl, although Troiani in the documents voices doubt that was the drug involved. The two other women who testified on Constand’s behalf said they had knowingly been given quaaludes.

Three of the women accusing Cosby of sexually assaulting them have a defamation lawsuit pending against him in Massachusetts. They allege that he defamed them when his agents said their accusations were untrue. Cosby is trying to get their case thrown out before discovery.

Cosby had fought the AP’s efforts to unseal the testimony, with his lawyer arguing the deposition could reveal details of Cosby’s marriage, sex life and prescription drug use.

“It would be terribly embarrassing for this material to come out,” lawyer George M. Gowen III argued in June. He said the public should not have access to what Cosby was forced to say as he answered questions under oath from the accuser’s lawyer nearly a decade ago.

“Frankly … it would embarrass him, (and) it would also prejudice him in eyes of the jury pool in Massachusetts,” Gowen said.

U.S. District Judge Eduardo Robreno asked last month why Cosby was fighting the release of his sworn testimony, given that the accusations in the Temple woman’s lawsuit were already in the public eye.

“Why would he be embarrassed by his own version of the facts?” Robreno said.

Cosby resigned in December from the board of trustees at Temple, where he was the popular face of the Philadelphia school in advertisements, fundraising campaigns and commencement speeches.


Code Specialists Oppose US and British Government Access to Encrypted …

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Caribou Shares New Daphni Track "Vikram"

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Taking place in a surreal mini-city in the Arizona desert, last weekend’s FORM Arcosanti festival featured acts including Hundred Waters, How to Dress Well, Julianna Barwick, the Antlers, Pharmakon, and Skrillex. Photos by Tonje Thilesen.


Willie Reed impressing while trying to latch on with Heat

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Despite indisputably having the physique to star in the NBA, Willie Reed has endured four years of failing to stick. He has ventured to play in Israel and the Dominican Republic, suited up for four D-League teams and been cut by the Kings, Grizzlies, Pacers and Nets along the way.

The familiarity of that story is why Reed picked up the nickname “2.0” during the Heat’s summer league session, as in Hassan Whiteside 2.0. Every overlooked big man has hope after watching Whiteside emerge from similar sludge to assert himself as Miami’s starting center, and Reed believes he can be next.

Willie Reed photo

“I watched him a lot last year and he was in the D-League with me, so watching his story made me think that could be me at any time,” Reed said. “It gave me the motivation to keep pushing through even when things weren’t going the way I wanted.

“It’s a matter of finding the right spot. That’s how it is for everybody. Maybe the Miami Heat is the right team for me.”

At 6-foot-11, 231 pounds, Reed has been a dynamic post player for the Heat early in summer league. He put up 13 points and 11 rebounds in Monday’s 78-73 win over the Pistons at Amway Center and consistently looks out of place in games featuring mostly rookies and fringe players.

Willie Reed impressing while trying to latch on with Heat photo

In the first two games, he totaled 24 points, 13 rebounds and three blocked shots in 48 minutes.

“He brings us a shot-blocking presence around the rim and he’s a high-motor big,” said Heat assistant Dan Craig, head coach of the summer team. “It’s contagious with everybody else. He gives you extra possessions with his offensive rebounding. He’s been tremendous.”

The Heat could use a third center, but their roster for 2015-16 currently is one over capacity at 16. All five power forwards and centers — Chris Bosh, Josh McRoberts, Udonis Haslem, Whiteside and Chris Andersen — have guaranteed contracts.

Unless a backup frontcourt player gets traded, the task for Reed, 25, is complicated: Impress the staff enough to convince them to cut a couple of wing players in order to keep him.

Miami has eight players at shooting guard or small forward, including three with nonguaranteed deals.

In 47 games for the Grand Rapids Drive last season, Reed averaged 16.4 points, 12.2 rebounds and 1.9 blocked shots per game. He has been stuck in the no man’s land of being clearly too strong for D-League, but not quite able to make an NBA roster.

“I played against him in the D-League, so I know all about what he does,” said Heat guard Tyler Johnson, who spent part of last season with Sioux Falls. “He’s very good.”

Reed’s career got off track beginning with a sexual assault allegation — charges were not pressed — that led to him being kicked off the team at St. Louis University. He declared for the 2011 draft, did not get picked and entered the D-League with the Springfield (Mass.) Armor.

He earned a training camp invite from Sacramento in 2012 and was cut just before the season started. The same thing happened with Memphis a year later and in Brooklyn last fall. He also played for the Pacers’ summer league team last year.

“The process has really helped me become the person I am now,” Reed said. “I’m glad I learned from it and became a better man and a better man of God. Now everything’s starting to turn around.

“I’m very confident in my abilities and I know what I can bring. If a coach puts me on the floor, he’s gonna get defense and rebounding and a vocal guy every time I step on the court, even if I’m the 15th man on the roster.”



The Importance of Being Different: Creating a Competitive Advantage With Your USP

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“The one who follows the crowd will usually go no further than the crowd. Those who walk alone are likely to find themselves in places no one has ever been before.”

While this quote has been credited to everyone from Francis Phillip Wernig, under the pseudonym Alan Ashley-Pitt, to Einstein himself, the powerful message does not lose its substance no matter whom you choose to credit. There is a very important yet often overlooked effect of not heeding this warning. One which can be applied to all aspects of life. From love and happiness, to business and marketing, copying what your competitors are doing and failing to forge your own path can be a detrimental mistake.

While as marketers we are all acutely aware of the importance of differentiation, we’ve been trained for the majority of our lives to seek out the norm.

We spend the majority of our adolescent lives trying desperately not to be different. No one has ever been picked on for being too normal or not being different enough. We would beg our parents to buy us the same clothes little Jimmy or little Jamie wore. We’d want the same backpack and the same bike everyone else had. With the rise of the cell phone and later the smartphone, on hands and knees, we begged and pleaded for our parents to buy us the Razr, the StarTAC (bonus points if you didn’t have to Google that one), and later the iPhone. Did we truly want these things? Yes, but not just because they were cutting edge and nifty. We desired them because the people around us had them. We didn’t want to be the last to get these devices. We didn’t want to be different.

Thankfully, as we mature we begin to realize the fallacy that is trying to be normal. We start to become individuals and learn to appreciate that being different is often seen as beautiful. However, while we begin to celebrate being different on a personal level, it does not always translate into our business or professional lives.

We unconsciously and naturally seek out the normal, and if we want to be different—truly different in a way that creates an advantage—we have to work for it.

The truth of the matter is, anyone can be different. In fact, we all are very different. Even identical twins with the same DNA will often have starkly different personalities. As a business, the real challenge lies in being different in a way that is relevant, valuable to your audience, and creates an advantage.

“Strong products and services are highly differentiated from all other products and services. It’s that simple. It’s that difficult.” – Austin McGhie, Brand Is a Four Letter Word

Let’s explore the example of Revel Hotel Casino. Revel is a 70-story luxury casino in Atlantic City that was built in 2012. There is simply not another casino of the same class in Atlantic City, but there might be a reason for this. Even if you’re not familiar with the city, a quick jump onto Atlantic City’s tourism website reveals that of the five hero banners that rotate, not one specifically mentions gambling, but three reference the boardwalk. This is further illustrated when exploring their internal linking structure. The beaches, boardwalk, and shopping all appear before a single mention of casinos. There simply isn’t as much of a market for high-end gamblers in the Atlantic City area; in the states Las Vegas serves that role. So while Revel has a unique advantage, their ability to attract customers to their resort has not resulted in profitable earnings reports. In Q2 2012, Revel had a gross operating loss of $35.177M, and in Q3 2012 that increased to $36.838M.

So you need to create a unique selling proposition (also known as unique selling point and commonly referred to as a USP), and your USP needs to be valuable to your audience and create a competitive advantage. Sounds easy enough, right? Now for the kicker. That advantage needs to be as sustainable as physically possible over the long term.

“How long will it take our competitors to duplicate our advantage?”

You really need to explore this question and the possible solutions your competitors could utilize to play catch-up or duplicate what you’ve done. Look no further than Google vs Bing to see this in action. No company out there is going to just give up because your USP is so much better; most will pivot or adapt in some way.

Let’s look at a Seattle-area coffee company of which you may or may not be familiar. Starbucks has tried quite a few times over the years to level-up their tea game with limited success, but the markets that Starbucks has really struggled to break into are the pastry, breads, dessert, and food markets.

Other stores had more success in these markets, and they thought that high-quality teas and bakery items were the USPs that differentiated them from the Big Bad Wolf that is Starbucks. And while they were right to think that their brick house would save them from the Big Bad Wolf for some time, this fable doesn’t end with the Big Bad Wolf in a boiling pot.

Never underestimate your competitor’s ability to be agile, specifically when overcoming a competitive disadvantage.

If your competitor can’t beat you by making a better product or service internally, they can always choose to buy someone who can.

After months of courting, on June 4th, 2012 Starbucks announced that they had come to an agreement to purchase La Boulange in order to “elevate core food offerings and build a premium, artisanal bakery brand.” If you’re a small-to-medium sized coffee shop and/or bakery that even indirectly competed with Starbucks, a new challenger approaches. And while those tea shops momentarily felt safe within the brick walls that guarded their USP, on the final day of that same year, the Big Bad Wolf huffed and puffed and blew a stack of cash all over Teavana. Making Teavana a wholly-owned subsidiary of Starbucks for the low, low price of $620M.

Sarcasm aside, this does a great job of illustrating the ability of companies—especially those with deep pockets—to be agile, and demonstrates that they often have an uncanny ability to overcome your company’s competitive advantage. In seven months, Starbucks went from a minor player in these markets to having all the tools they need to dominate tea and pastries. Have you tried their raspberry pound cake? It’s phenomenal.

Why does this matter to me?

Ok, we get it. We need to be different, and in a way that is relevant, valuable, defensible, and sustainable. But I’m not the CEO, or even the CMO. I cannot effect change on a company level; why does this matter to me?

I’m a firm believer that you effect change no matter what the name plate on your desk may say. Sure, you may not be able to call an all-staff meeting today and completely change the direction of your company tomorrow, but you can effect change on the parts of the business you do touch. No matter your title or area of responsibility, you need to know your company’s, client’s, or even a specific piece of content‘s USP, and you need to ensure it is applied liberally to all areas of your work.

Look at this example SERP for “Mechanics”:

Mechanics SERP Cropped.png

While yes, this search is very likely to be local-sensitive, that doesn’t mean you can’t stand out. Every single AdWords result, save one, has only the word “Mechanics” in the headline. (While the top of page ad is pulling description line 1 into the heading, the actual headline is still only “Mechanic.”) But even the one headline that is different doesn’t do a great job of illustrating the company’s USP. Mechanics at home? Whose home? Mine or theirs? I’m a huge fan of Steve Krug’s “Don’t Make Me Think,” and in this scenario there are too many questions I need answered before I’m willing to click through. “Mechanics; We Come To You” or even “Traveling Mechanics” illustrates this point much more clearly, and still fits within the 25-character limit for the headline.

If you’re an AdWords user, no matter how big or small your monthly spend may be, take a look at your top 10-15 keywords by volume and evaluate how well you’re differentiating yourself from the other brands in your industry. Test ad copy that draws attention to your USP and reap the rewards.

Now while this is simply an AdWords text ad example, the same concept can be applied universally across all of marketing.

Title tags meta descriptions

As we alluded to above, not only do companies have USPs, but individual pieces of content can, and should, have their own USP. Use your title tag and meta description to illustrate what differentiates your piece of content from the competition and do so in a way that attracts the searcher’s click. Use your USP to your advantage. If you have already established a strong brand within a specific niche, great! Now use it to your advantage. Though it’s much more likely that you are competing against a strong brand, and in these scenarios ask yourself, “What makes our content different from theirs?” The answer you come up with is your content’s USP. Call attention to that in your title tag and meta description, and watch the CTR climb.

I encourage you to hop into your own site’s analytics and look at your top 10-15 organic landing pages and see how well you differentiate yourself. Even if you’re hesitant to negatively affect your inbound gold mines by changing the title tags, run a test and change up your meta description to draw attention to your USP. In an hour’s work, you just may make the change that pushes you a little further up those SERPs.

Branding

Let’s break outside the world of digital marketing and look at the world of branding. Tom’s Shoes competes against some heavy hitters in Nike, Adidas, Reebok, and Puma just to name a few. While Tom’s can’t hope to compete against the marketing budgets of these companies in a fair fight, they instead chose to take what makes them different, their USP, and disseminate it every chance they get. They have labeled themselves “The One for One” company. It’s in their homepage’s title tag, in every piece of marketing they put out, and it smacks you in the face when you land on their site. They even use the call-to-action “Get Good Karma” throughout their site.

Now as many of us may know, partially because of the scandal it created in late 2013, Tom’s is not actually a non-profit organization. No matter how you feel about the matter, this marketing strategy has created a positive effect on their bottom line. Fast Company conservatively estimated their revenues in 2013 at $250M, with many estimates being closer to the $300M mark. Not too bad of a slice of the pie when competing against the powerhouses Tom’s does.

Wherever you stand on this issue, Tom’s Shoes has done a phenomenal job of differentiating their brand from the big hitters in their industry.

Know your USP and disseminate it every chance you get.

This is worth repeating. Know your USP and disseminate it every chance you get, whether that be in title tags, ad copy, on-page copy, branding, or any other segment of your marketing campaigns. Online or offline, be different. And remember the quote that we started with, “The one who follows the crowd will usually go no further than the crowd. Those who walk alone are likely to find themselves in places no one has ever been before.”

The amount of marketing knowledge that can be taken from this one simple statement is astounding. Heed the words, stand out from the crowd, and you will have success.


Meet The Real-Life Tony Stark Whose Tech Is Changing The World

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In a couple of years, you are going to be like Iron Man. No, really. It’s not because you’re getting a flying suit and sweet new facial hair — it’s because how you use computers is going to completely change.

That’s what John Underkoffler hopes, anyway. He’s the cofounder and CEO of Oblong Industries, and he’s also the guy Marvel consults so they can make Iron Man’s alter ego, Tony Stark, as brilliant as he appears in the Avengers movies.


Source: Giphy

Underkoffler has designed a number of Iron Man’s signature inventions, from his personalized keyboard to his homemade nuclear reactor to the gestures Stark uses to command his self-assembling suit. Last month Underkoffler won the Cooper-Hewitt National Design award for interaction design. The CEO believes that user interfaces, how we communicate with machines and with each other, will drive how technology is going to change in the next few years — and how movies can shift our expectations for the future.

Science fiction, as Thor‘s Jane Foster says, has a way of becoming science fact. The Marvel Cinematic Universe, which has made billions of dollars in ticket sales, has a global megaphone in our conversations about the future of technology. Not only do the movies inspire present and future innovators, but they can also showcase the ideas that are lighting up the tech scene as we speak.


At the 2010 TED conference, Minority Report’s science advisor, John Underkoffler, demos a real life version of the “spatial operating environment” interface.
Source: Steve Jurvetson/Wikimedia Commons

So long, 20th century: Oblong’s New York office sits about a mile from the site of Avengers Tower. From the front door, a closed-out RadioShack is visible on one side, Madison Square Garden on the other. Inside, there’s a computer room that’s straight out of a sci-fi film: multiple screens, each interconnected and instantly interactive from thousands of miles apart, all controlled with gestures and one simple wand. That room is from a very specific film, though it’s not a Marvel property: Minority Report, 2002’s future-set thriller starring Tom Cruise.

Characters in Minority Report interact with digital content through gestures. The digital content goes wherever it wants, moving unimpeded between screens on a big monitor, a handheld device or a bank of computers. “It’s really easy to start thinking of pixels as a kind of universally interoperable thing,” Underkoffler said. “Pixels should be a shared resource.” After consulting on Minority Report, “it seemed too timely and too fabulous not to take the momentum from all the excitement about that gestural interface work and build it back into the real world.”

Source: YouTube

The excitement is real and remains so. The TED Talk Underkoffler gave in 2010 describing the technology has more than 1.4 million views. Oblong soon brought in clients to use real-life versions of Minority Report‘s software, which is called Mezzanine; they include IBM, Boeing, GE, Sonos, Beats Music and the federal government. But Underkoffler has no interest in keeping the client list so rarefied. He wants his technology in everybody’s hands.

To accomplish that goal, he designed Mezzanine to be both futuristic and decidedly intuitive — “visceral” and “fun,” as Underkoffler called it. You can issue commands by rolling a wand in your hand, or zoom by moving the wand forward and backward in space. To see your data move around an entire room brings to mind a million possibilities. It’s meant to be seamless, frictionless, intuitive.

There’s a reason he wants Mezzanine to exist outside of the corporate purview. “If there are seven corporations that essentially control all of the digital efficacy in the world, then that’s not a healthy society,” he said. “A healthy society is an informed society, one in which individuals have a voice, they have the power to create and disseminate new ideas. So let’s give people a full vocabulary. Let’s give people the broadest set of language within which to play, to try stuff out, to say things and see what happens.”

How do we do that? Simple: Make everyone Tony Stark.


Source: Giphy/Marvel

Oh yeah, I can fly: “Tony is really fascinating as a character because he designs his own technology and then uses it, so he’s kind of the ideal closed-loop designer-engineer and user,” Underkoffler said. “Let’s do that for people in general. Let’s give them a UI that makes them vastly more communicative, more powerful, gives them direct control over pieces of the digital world, then we’re a lot closer to being like Tony.”

When movie audiences see that technology in action, they start asking what they could do with those options.

Underkoffler’s goal for Mezzanine is to bring computing into space. “We’re experts at using the physical world,” he said. “Space is important because that’s where we live.” Yet we’re still using all the power of contemporary technology with the maximum capabilities of the early age of computers: a monitor, a keyboard, a mouse, a single device. Even our smartphones are a limitation — Underkoffler compares it to confining your creativity to a 3-inch-by-5-inch card. Our problems, he says, are room-sized and require collaboration. “We know how to get stuff done with other people when space is the medium,” he said.

He’s not kidding about user interfaces making us superheroes. “UIs should be like Tony Stark’s suit,” he said. “It transduces your human intent into a kind of a computational superpower, in the same way that a mechanical exoskeleton would let you run at 50 mph.” When movie audiences see that technology in action, they start asking what they could do with those options.

That’s exactly what Rick Loverd wants. He’s the director of the Science and Entertainment Exchange, a program developed by the National Academy of Sciences to put scientists and their research in touch with TV and movie producers. The Exchange has worked with Marvel on a number of projects, including The Avengers and Agents of SHIELD. “The ability for media to get the next generation of scientists excited about cracking these technologies and bringing them to us and making them real, that’s a really powerful force,” Loverd told Mic in a phone interview. “That’s something you can see throughout the history of storytelling.”

The Marvel movies in particular have been the staging ground for a number of cutting-edge technologies. Oblong-style gestural and even holographic interfaces are a common feature of both SHIELD facilities and Stark products.

Though Underkoffler and Oblong did not design Stark’s ‘Iron Man 2′ interfaces, their influence is clear.
Source: YouTube

The Thor franchise, in which technology is so advanced it’s basically considered magic, showcases “healing rooms” reminiscent of personalized medicine. Guardians of the Galaxy features instantaneous secure communication across improbable distances. While the genocidal AI of Avengers: Age of Ultron may far off, the beloved JARVIS, a computer designed to replace a human butler from the comics, is one of Tony Stark’s closest emotional relationships — just like how we anthropomorphize and form attachments to machines like Siri.

In the films, most of the most powerful toys are either in space or reserved for the genius billionaire playboy philanthropists who build them. However, Loverd thinks the everyday real-life consumer has the most to gain from these developments, and he says history proves him right. “When you look at things like sequencing your own genome, that used to cost tens of thousands of dollars, and now it’s something like $1,000,” he said. “Even the flat-screen TV, the amount of processing power that people are able to buy, that technology used to cost a fortune. It’s now accessible to the average person.”

Art imitates life: Cool fictional technology tells us a lot about ourselves too. “We correctly expect more out of our technology,” said Underkoffler of these movies, where “you can see technology actually bestowing more agency, efficacy and power on the human side of the human-machine interface.”

Yet the picture isn’t always so rosy. The Marvel movies want us to ask questions about ourselves too. Is it right to pursue certain technologies? The Incredible Hulk is all about attempts to create super-soldier programs, and how much damage — personal, physical and psychic — that kind of power can cause. Can we trust the owners of technology? Captain America: The Winter Soldier shows us a surveillance state built, its makers claim, to keep us safe — and to weed out those whom the state decides might get in its way. How do we move away from war when it’s so profitable? In Iron Man, Tony Stark’s mentor and business partner tries to kill him, rather than shift their company away from weapons and into clean energy.

Oblong, for its part, envisions a world where every screen everywhere is accessible and available for interaction to users of Mezzanine. Underkoffler, however, is also working through the privacy considerations of the software, and keeping full control of information with the user. We owe it to the world, he says; a UI should let its users be as present and as private in the digital world as they are in the real one.

“That’s the greatest role that Hollywood can play in pushing us forward into the future.”

Loverd thinks that ultimately, there’s a difference between a great character’s moral dilemma and a technology’s benefit to society. “I’m a firm believer that the advancement that we are able to make are ultimately worth that potential dark side,” he said. “This idea of Tony Stark as this engineer who solves problems and creates great things is, I think, more what’s going to have a positive impact on the world.” 

“To me,” Loverd said, “that starting point of the character who inspires you or the technology that gets you thinking, that doesn’t exist but maybe it could — I think that’s the greatest role that Hollywood can play in pushing us forward into the future.”


5 Ways Marketers Need to Rethink Their Approach to Sports Partnerships

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eSports are watched by 27 million people and counting each year.

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Sports are inherently nostalgic. We all share memories of that game-winning play or agonizing defeat. These moments never leave us. They become a part of our lives.

Greg D’Alba Illustration: Alex Fine

With this emotional power as a backdrop—and in a world where interruptive campaigns are losing to invited content—sporting events have an advantage. They play an influential role in shaping our beliefs and values at an early age, and activating against them helps form the ultimate emotional connections with consumers.

The best sports marketers help create those connections. From Red Bull’s transformation into a media company to (our client) Visa’s 27-plus years supporting Olympians through stories that pack an emotional punch, the brands that win enable unique experiences and provide access to content that stands out from the norm and is social by design.

Unfortunately, too many of today’s sports marketers remain content with traditional tactics. Chasing quantifiable metrics, we follow the formula of classic sponsorships and media that is priced by CPM. We endorse programmatic buying as the answer to our desire for greater efficiencies. But in the midst of all this data and targeting-enabled technology, we still don’t know which 50 percent of our marketing spend is wasted. The safe route isn’t getting us where we need to be.

In today’s shifting media landscape, broadcasters are paying a premium for the rights to live sporting events, on-demand content rules, and sports that didn’t exist six years ago (eSports) are now being watched by 27 million people and counting each year. We have to find unique ways to win on this new playing field.

So how do we get there? Today every agency offers strategic thinking, develops creative ideas and claims to have integrated digital capabilities. But these offerings aren’t enough. We have to help brands better understand the world around them, become clear on their reason for being and focus on establishing ownable platforms that deliver real value.

For example, financial services company USAA launched an ongoing NFL partnership called Salute to Service in 2011 to celebrate the military community USAA serves. With the help of IMG, Salute to Service has become a culturally relevant program that includes in-arena fan activations, on-field recognition ceremonies and player visits to military bases. USAA gets to play a credible role in the sports world with no national media buy. Members of the military gain better access to a sport they love and fans appreciate an integration that gives back.

To achieve shifts like these, we have to start answering the following questions:

Culture shapes content: What is happening right now that informs our consumers’ perspectives and preferences? What is missing and where should it be shared?

Content creates community: How can we accrue and consistently engage a group of like-minded followers?

Community engages in conversation: How are we enabling discussion and sharing?

Conversation influences commerce: How can we guide discussion to influence purchase or preference decisions?

Once you’ve identified the narrative, you have to consider its delivery. Technology has now turned passive spectators into active participants. Take what Snapchat is doing with its Live Stories feature that collects snaps at marquee sporting events—from college football games to the World Cup—and grants insider access to millions of fans who can’t be there in person.

So is there still power in appointment viewing? Yes, but brands now have the chance to engage with fans before, during and after those few hours by delivering original content, creating discussions across social and seeking feedback at every step.

With all this in mind, consider these playbook updates:

1. Partnership vs. sponsorship: Value the client enough to help them create something they can own—something only attributable to them.

2. Own vs. rent: Never rent awareness, but rather create programs that can scale.

3. Agency diversification: Eliminate the middleman by working directly with creators of culture.

4. Smart data drives big emotion: Smart data is the new creative and when unlocked can strengthen a brand’s connection to its audience like never before.

5. Live (adj.) vs. live (verb): Live events begin with the brand and end with the fan, but we should start with the fan and build the event with and for them.

We’ve never had as many tools at our disposal to help brands create an emotional tether with sports fans.

Now go use them.

This story first appeared in the July 6 issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.

Greg D’Alba (@GregDAlba) is president of global partnerships at WME | IMG and a juror for the second annual Clio Sports Awards.

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Topics:
CLIO Awards, Clio Sports, esports, Greg D’Alba, Magazine Content, National Football League, Red Bull, Snapchat, Sports Marketing, Visa, Voice, WME | IMG

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New Honda CEO Shifts Focus to Technology

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Honda’s new CEO, Takahiro Hachigo, is shifting away from aggressive sales targets and focusing on new technology.
ENLARGE

Honda Motor Co.
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’s new chief executive is making a break from his predecessor by prioritizing new technology, while stepping back from the aggressive sales targets the Japanese auto maker had struggled to meet.

In his first news conference as CEO, Takahiro Hachigo said he wants to ensure employees have enough time to develop strong products, as Japan’s No. 3 car maker behind Toyota Motor Corp.
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and Nissan Motor Co.
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grapples with slowing sales growth, quality lapses and overworked engineers.

“I want to prioritize the development of Honda-like products rather than expanding sales volume,” the 56-year-old, who became CEO in June, said at Honda’s headquarters in Tokyo on Monday. “The team that’s involved in on-the-ground development needs to spend time to develop better products, and I want to support them by making sure that time is secured.”

Mr. Hachigo’s tenure kicks off as Honda faces a crossroads: After five decades of making cars, Honda lacks the size or cash of larger rivals such as Toyota. Honda has long projected a youthful brand image and stressed technological innovation, but some critics say those traits have been diluted as the company has grown.

In recent years, Honda engineers haven’t had much time to develop models, as the auto maker sought to rapidly expand car sales. Mr. Hachigo’s predecessor, Takanobu Ito, who took over as CEO in 2009, had set out to nearly double Honda’s annual car sales to six million vehicles over five years by the fiscal year ending March 2017.

To meet deadlines, overtime had become the norm for some Honda engineers. But they still didn’t have enough time to develop new technologies to help Honda distinguish itself from rivals, executives have said.

What Honda needs to do “is to improve efficiency and productivity in vehicle development,” said Satoshi Nagashima, an automotive strategy consultant and co-managing partner at Roland Berger Strategy Consultants. That would result in more time for engineers to do their work, he said.


ENLARGE

Honda has abandoned its 2017 sales target, which it was far from reaching — in the year ended March 2015, it sold 4.4 million vehicles. Analysts said it also faced drawbacks from its rapid expansion, including a spate of recalls and excess manufacturing capacity, though in the long run, its push into emerging markets could help boost its competitiveness.

Some critics blamed Mr. Ito’s top-down management style and his push to move products to market quickly for Honda’s troubles.

In contrast, Mr. Hachigo on Monday played up the importance of teamwork and communication, vowing to build an environment that adopts more ideas from people actually involved in projects. Mr. Hachigo plans to visit all of Honda’s plants in Japan by the end of this month, he said.

Mr. Hachigo said that when he was an engineer involved in vehicle development, including the U.S. version of the popular Odyssey minivan, he learned the importance of sharing goals among multinational team members. Just last week, Honda said it is setting English as its corporate lingua franca by 2020.

This push for a more international culture at a traditional Japanese auto maker isn’t unique to Honda. Toyota in March announced appointments of several non-Japanese to high-ranking positions, including Frenchman Didier Leroy, who in June became executive vice president, the highest post ever held by a non-Japanese at the company. Toyota Managing Officer Julie Hamp , an American who took her post in April, quit last week after her arrest over alleged illegal drug imports into Japan.

Mr. Hachigo said Honda will develop technologies on its own as much as possible, but added he is open to considering cooperation with other auto makers if there are benefits. Honda currently partners with General Motors Co.
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on fuel-cell vehicle technology.

Mr. Hachigo’s strategy is likely to take time to bear fruit: In general, auto makers take some four or five years to develop new models.

Another priority for Honda is to make use of its excessive production capacity world-wide, Mr. Hachigo said. Honda’s general policy has been to make more cars locally, but now it will also ship more cars between regions, he said.

Honda continues to be embroiled in recalls over air bags made by Takata
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Corp, with Honda’s recall tally ballooning to 20 million vehicles world-wide over the past seven years. Takata faces mounting costs related to what has turned out to be the biggest automotive recall in U.S. history involving more than 10 auto makers. Mr. Hachigo said that at this moment, Honda has no plans to offer support to Takata.

Write to Yoko Kubota at yoko.kubota@wsj.com


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