Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Fashion Emergency: Designs for A Changed World

Al Gore's consciousness raising over global warming appears to be making its way into the fashion world. Last week, as the School of the Art Institute's top design students took their visionary designs to the runway, the most consistent theme was fashion for a compromised world. This year, SAIC's young designers aimed to turn heads, as well as change minds. Whether sculpted, layered, or draped--the tone was anticipated an era when fashion may have to protect us from the environment, rather than use it as a backdrop.

The Armageddon gear that peppered the School's show this year embraced shoulder pads, eppelets, face masks, and border-crossing nomadic looks that evoked a sense of exodus. The ecophobia thread that ran through many of the 200 innovative garments on parade also reflected the Etsy DIY ethos. Torn, recycled skirts and slacks that were topped with tailored jackets (Margot Brummer) and off-center blazers. Business on top, social message on the bottom.

The School of the Art Institute prides itself on a trans-disciplinary approach, and its
2009 Fashion Show walked that talk. At intervals, student performance artists, used the runway as a stage and flexed some artistic muscle in the moment.

If SAIC's young designers provide a glimpse at what lies ahead, then we can expect the following trends to appear on racks:

1. Pleats in unexpected places like the back of a blazer or a midriff. (Arushi Kumar, Skruti Kirti, Pamela Miranda)

2. Shorter slacks with Star-trekkie, geometric flares right below the knee (Tina Park)

3. Urban geurilla gear for men that loudly bull-horn, "I'm a man, dammit!" (Seth Meyerink-Griffin)

4. Leggings. More leggings. Striped, paisley, floral, long and spatlike. All manner and color. (Neha Khanna, Victoria Larkin, Cindy Hong)

5. Layers. Piles of fabric, be it ruffled, shredded or neatly sculpted, layers are the thingy. (Carolyn Sgrignoli, Desserae Bassil, Jennifer Heidger, Maggie Burke, Sarah Mallis, Nanajelic Neric, Catherine Kao)

Never short on cleverness, SAIC students always tease out one or two designs for which a reporter lusts. Mine was Jessica Mikesell's red and white reinvented varsity jacket that fused jock with diva producing an evening coat with a long, layered train.

As always, SAIC's annual fashion show inspires and transcends. Because fashion students have more to prove and less to lose than working designers laboring under the tyranny of a bad economy, the designs are always bold. And isn't that the whole point of a creative education?

Photo: Jessica Mikesell's design courtesy of Jeremy Lawson

Friday, April 24, 2009

SAIC Fashion Show: Got Funky?

Spring in Chicago means a couple things to me: sandals, sunglasses, tulips and cool breezes off the lake. But most of all, the season is marked by the annual School of the Art Institutes's Fashion show. I am strapping on sandals. Scrounging for my shades, and heading out to cover the event for Huffington Post. I expect wall-to-wall funky. Weird, gorgeous, overworked, under planned and strictly for those who take their fashion as they take life--at the thin edge of the wedge.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Brands that Become Us: Selling My Volvo

Because I'm in the marketing business, I find it hard to admit when a brand has stolen my heart. I think I should be above it. But last night, I cleaned out the old Volvo 760 wagon to sell it. I loved that car. I raised my kids in that car. As I dug moldy Pirate Booty out of crevices and scrounged old report cards and dead beat crayons from underneath the seats, I welled up.

Thankfully, I never tested the Volvo's safety features. Although in what could be considered brand treason, the seat belt on the driver's side rarely worked. I forgave it.

Vehicles, like no other durable, have a special place in a consumer's life. It goes beyond transportation. It's probably the biggest "identity" purchase a person can make.

So, as I hand off the old Volvo to the next family, an African American single mom with two boys, I feel like I'm transferring a legacy. I flash back to the long rides in the country with the kids playing checkers in the back. A soccer team destined for celebratory pizza. Nine teenagers in prom outfits chatting and laughing. Indeed, Kevin Roberts would declare this a case of "Lovemarks" for my Volvo. And he'd be right about that.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

An Army of RenGen?

Will the next generation Army be a RenGen Army? The U.S. Army has a professional writing program and a website that pushes out work written by military personnel. Some of it's creative. Some of it's discursive. Also curious, is Secretary Gates's offer to academia to collaborate with the Pentagon in researching to socio-political dynamics of insurgency.

Gates is aiming to apply lessons learned from studying the social dimensions of Al Qaeda recruitment, rites of passage, indoctrination, etc. toward a more psychological approach to fighting terrorism. So far, higher education has been tepid regarding his offer. Too bad. It's an interesting social experiment that could make a huge difference in forging the next generation of US military that Gates envisions--one based more intelligence, less heavy (expensive) artillery. But most interesting, is that Gates seems to understand the need to appeal to young RenGen as part of his recruitment efforts. As important as his approach is the idea behind it. That more idealistic call to creative, thoughtful engagement appeals to young RenGen. I salute savvy of Gates's ideas.
photo credit: James Dale

Monday, April 20, 2009

Knock, Knock: Seven Questions to Ask Yourself Before Selling a Sponsorship

Ever wonder if the pursuit of sponsorship makes sense for your organization or cause? In this climate, burning precious time and energy selling sponsorships may or may not be for you. How do you decide? To help you out, I've created this punch list. It's a reality check, really. Gather a few colleagues and ask away. If there are more positives than negatives--sally forth and conquer. There are still deals to be had.

Reality Check-checklist
1. Think about your organization’s reach. Do you have an established marketing effort? Is your organization Web 2.0 savvy like this http://www.pledgetoendhunger.com/? Because if your are a good marketer, you can also be a great partner to a corporate sponsor.

2. Do you know who's who? What do you know about your organization’s demographics? Have you collected recent information on who participates and why? Where they live? How far they drive to participate? Whether they are repeat users? Whether they are young families, empty-nesters, or teens? Your demographics dictate the sponsor categories on which you should focus your efforts and the ones you shouldn’t waste time and energy on.

3. Have you worked with sponsors before? Do you have any testimonials from a corporate executive about the value of your organization to its community of users? Do you feature those in press kits and other marketing materials for the organization?

4. What is the competitive environment like? Look around. Are other organizations of your organization’s type and in its region getting sponsorships?

5. Got prospects? Create a list of companies headquartered in your area. What do they produce, and to whom do they sell? Are there cross-promotions you can work up that will help them sell to one of your existing sponsors or team up with an existing sponsor?

6. Are you a member of civic organizations made up of businesspeople, so that you can gain insight and entrée into the business community?

7. Is there an entrepreneurial spirit in your organization? Are new ideas welcomed, and do they receive thoughtful consideration? Have other commercial or revenue-generating initiatives been realized over the last five years?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

RenGen on the Road in Tampa

I'm in Tampa today talking to the Meeting Planners International about the Trends in Sponsorship Marketing among the RenGen. These times call for an unusual courage to brave new paths. I'm honored that these event coordinators are seeking insights from my research to shape their plans. In fact, I wonder if we can even call it planning anymore. It's more about planning your next set of experiments.

The willingness to strive despite the sense that we are stumbling in the darkness will give birth to the next iteration of any sector. I welcome the exchange among these masters of the consumer experience. They create the events that make life meaningful: festivals, fairs, parades, celebrations. Think back. When was the last time you attended some event that rocked your soul? What was it? Why did it strike a chord?

Monday, April 13, 2009

Farewell to Judith Krug, Champion for Intellectual Freedom

A few years ago, Judith Krug, Director of the ALA's Office for Intellectual Freedom invited me to lunch to discuss an idea she had. Over iced tea and fancy salads, she explained that she found the erosion of reader privacy in the digital age to be worrisome. That afternoon we hatched a plan to address information privacy. Over a period of a few months we conjured a national strategy. We landed funding. And we embarked. That's how it worked with Judith Krug. Ever vigilant about protecting Americans' Constitutional rights, Krug liked to snuff out First Amendment powder kegs before they exploded in people's faces.

Judith was a study in paradoxes: elegant and gritty; eloquent and saucy; fierce and friendly; vehement and compassionate. Knowing her in the years we worked together at ALA, I watched her navigate the icy political waters that carried in Karl Rove's stealth agenda to get ultra-conservatives appointed as Library Trustees and build their resumes for public office. I watched her train high-powered volunteer lawyers to defend librarians in book banning cases. I watched as she built Banned Books Week into one of the most successful public awareness programs in American history.

On Saturday, she succumbed to cancer of the stomach after an arduous battle. She was 69. A devoted mother and a beloved colleague, she will be sorely missed. Especially by all the librarians in America who came to rely on her protection from book banning and unauthorized searches of patron reading records. Even in her last months, she was critiquing white papers on information privacy and commenting on strategy. In that way, she died with her boots on--just as she would have wanted it. It was a life well lived, full of purpose and progress toward a greater good.

photo courtesy of Jim Rettig via Flickr

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Relics in Detroit

Later this week, I'll pack up the car and head to Detroit to visit my family. It's always bittersweet. Because in Detroit, more than anywhere, I am able to see the starkness of the decline. This slideshow tells the story. The photographers who produced it captured it perfectly:

"Detroit was the 4th most important city in the United States.It was the dazzling symbol of the American Dream City with its monumental skyscrapers and fancy neighborhoods.Increasing of segregation and deindustrialization caused violent riots in 1967. The white middle-class exodus from the city accelerated and the suburbs grew. Nowadays, its splendid decaying monuments are, no less than the Pyramids of Egypt, the Coliseum of Rome, or the Acropolis in Athens, remnants of the passing of a great civilization."

So, in Detroit more than any city I visit, it is possible to witness the death that proceeds re-birth. It's rule #1 of the RenGen: death comes first. Believe it or not, this is what it looks like right before a renaissance.

Photo: United Artists Theatre in Detroit, Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre Photography

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The Future of Intellectual Profiling and Privacy

Cory Doctorow's post over at Boing Boing on the Obama administration's recent filing of a brief defending the Bush Administration's practice of surveillance and unauthorized wiretapping raises an important sticking point for liberals who supported Obama. Will there come a point where their ethics and values will need to be set aside to give the new President elbow room to succeed with the larger agenda: economy, bail-out, education, environment, job creation? Many privacy advocates believed the Obama Administration would simply let the Patriot Act fade into the sunset rather than be re-authorized. It was supposed to be a slam dunk. Well, here's your wake-up call.

The rising culture of surveillance and the erosion of privacy are creating a form of intellectual profiling that targets people for the information they consume. This has serious First Amendment implications for a knowledge society. The problem is that these issues are a little esoteric for most people to grasp. So my prediction is that unless the influential technorati, led by someone as eloquent on the issues as Cory Doctorow, get vocal about privacy and surveillance, Big Brother will get bigger, not smaller in the current administration.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Sponsorship Monday: What's Inside the Final Four's Deals

Whether you're the NCAA or a sponsor, it's been one of the most expensive Final Four tournaments in history. Tonight it all culminates in the Motor City, my home town, amid one of Detroit's darkest hours. Still, the Final Four tourney is a triumph in marketing as corporate sponsors signed multiple-year contracts years ago, organizers said.

What's inside these deals? Have a look:

A multi-million-dollar pledge gives sponsors exclusive promotional rights to 88 NCAA championships in 23 sports in more than 750 venues, said Greg Sheehan, NCAA senior vice president for basketball and business strategies. Sponsors have permission to use the association's trademark and use the NCAA name to advertise events and contests.
AT&T will host The Big Dance, a music festival on the riverfront this weekend, and Coca-Cola will provide refreshments for Cobo Center's weekend-long NCAA Hoop City party. Hershey's hosted an all-star game Friday at Ford Field. Other national sponsors include Enterprise, Lowe's, The Hartford, Sheraton, VitaminWater and State Farm.

General Motors Corp., an official NCAA sponsor since 1985, cut back this year as it struggles to survive and relies on government aid to stay afloat. The automaker returned its suites at Ford Field to the NCAA and reduced its budget for hospitality, dealer events and additional advertising, according to the Detroit Free Press.

I'll be on a plane tonight when the Spartans take on the Tar Heels. A friend will give me the "play by play" when I land late tonight at O'Hare. Even from afar, I'm rooting for the Spartans. No question. Not only is Detroit my home town, but Michigan State is my alma mater. Go green!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

NogginLabs Honored with Prestigious Edison Award for Innovation

We are proud to announce that our client, NogginLabs, has just been awarded a gold medal for the 2009 Edison Award for Innovation in Media & Communications for their stellar Instructional Genome. Named after Thomas Edison, the awards are among the most elite accolades honoring excellence in new product development, marketing, and innovation. NogginLabs won the award alongside other big name innovators such as Apple, Google, and the Obama Campaign.

“NogginLabs is honored beyond words to be on the same page as companies like Apple, Proctor & Gamble, and Google,” said Brian Knudson, founder and CEO of NogginLabs, Inc. “We’ve always fostered innovation to use technology to change behavior through online learning, and we excitedly anticipate the next release of our Instructional Genome.”

We are proud of their accomplishment, and stoked to be working alongside the visionary team at NogginLabs.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Recycle, Reinvent, Restore Your Industry

I have begun scouting innovative projects that help entire industries collaborate to make a difference. The criteria is that the projects cost very little, but make a big impact. My current favorite is Creative Pitch. It was started up in 2005 by Brainforest, a creative agency in Chicago, to encourage local design and advertising firms to turn unneeded materials into much-needed art supplies for elementary students. Creative Pitch helps turn what normally would be trash into valuable art supplies for thousands of children. It's been very successful. It makes a meaningful impact. And it solves more than one problem by focusing on a single, simple solution. Very RenGen.

Photo: jfliesh at Flickr