Saturday, January 22, 2011

Exhibition Review: First Emperor - China's Entombed Warriors at Art Gallery of NSW

The Terracotta Army has been described as one of the only historic artefacts that can draw a crowd based on its name alone. And after going to the Art Gallery of NSW's most recent 'First Emperor – China's Entombed Warriors' exhibition , this claim is well justified.

Featuring the famous Terracotta Army figures themselves, the exhibition hosts over 120 rare objects that trace the story of Qin Shi Huangdi, the First Emperor of China – from the beginnings and rise of the Qin empire, to his life and achievements, to his death and legacy - the exhibition is a comprehensive look into the man who united Ancient China.

For those unfamiliar to the context and historical backdrop of the artefacts, the gallery has a 15 minute introductory video that gives a succinct insight so you can truly appreciate not only the terracotta army, but the importance and controversy surrounding the first Emperor.

The exhibition itself spans five different rooms, all with low lighting and dark backdrop that focuses solely on the artefacts, making them speak for themselves.

The first thing you'll notice upon entering the exhibition is the sheer volume of people. The rooms are divided chronologically, and you should expect to follow the crowd as each and every person takes turn remarking the fine details of all the artefacts. After a certain point, you may be impatient and want to skip to the room that holds the terracotta warriors, but its worth examining every object along the way.

In the fourth room, the main attraction is shown, with the warriors standing in formation facing forward. The fact that they aren't hidden behind any glass gives you the opportunity to examine their fine details and marvel at their life-size and likeness. You'll notice they have fingernails, their ears have creases, their pants fold and they even have shoe laces (with tassel ends too, mind you). All made from from clay and over 2,000 year olds.

At this point, it's important to note that those looking to experience the full scale of the Terracotta Army will be disappointed. In accordance to UNESCO World Heritage Site rules, only a certain number of figures are allowed to leave the original Terracotta Army site in Xi'an. Only there will you be able to see almost 8,000 warriors in the original burial tomb. In a museum context, the focus thus becomes to demonstrate the incredible skill, dedication and genius that went into creating the individual figures.

What some may not know is that the all the soldiers were actually individually painted, but that after 2,000 years, the pigments have naturally worn off. Whilst the exhibition does state this, I wished they had a warrior replica that had all original colours on (or as close to this as can be inferred) – just to illustrate how truly fine the details would have been back in the day.

Throughout the exhibition, there are quotes that provoke imagery of the actual resting place of the Emperor. However, this is remains underground as Chinese archaeologists have decided to not further excavate the site to preserve its contents. You therefore leave the exhibition with the sense that there are mysteries to be solved and that hopefully, one day new treasures will be found.

The First Emperor – China's Entombed Warriors exhibition at the Art Gallery of NSW runs until the 13th March 2011.
$20.00 adults
$15.00 members/concession
$55.00 family (2 adults + up to 3 children)
$5.00 student in booked school group
$15.00 children 5-15 and full-time students. Under 5 free.
For more information, have a look at their official website.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Man With God's Voice

Holy! I had to share this, this what I imagine God would sound like...

Makes you think hard about what drugs and alcohol can do.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Unique Selling Point or Unique Buying Point?

Aside from not to mix drinks, my stint in advertising taught me one important thing - the USP (Unique Selling Proposition/Point). Whatever we did - from the moment we received briefs to brainstorming ideas - it seems people were obsessed over on this notion. The idea, it seemed, was that if your USP was strong enough, and if you communicated it well enough to your audience, you were bound to strike gold.

And for a while, it made sense; after all, why should someone buy your shampoo over another? Why yours different, special, unique? What did it have to offer? What was its Unique Selling Point?

But recently, it dawned upon me that the USP focuses too much on the seller, and what they're selling. After all, isn't any product, or service about the buyer – the customer? Don't get me wrong, I think the 'unique' part in USP is critical. But the 'Selling' seems outdated, and perhaps it's time to update the USP. Hence the UBP (Unique Buying Proposition).

Now, UBP comes by different names, CVP (Customer Value Proposition) for example essentially means the same thing. But why then, do advertising/marketing agencies keep pushing this notion of USP? In fact, in many creative briefs, there was a section to specifically state the USP (and ensure it fit within a sentence, otherwise it was far too complex for target audiences).

Of course, some USPs are inherently UBPs – for example, Dominos' “Get fresh pizza delivered to your door in 30 minutes or less - or it's free” is a benefit (hello, free pizza), but for some, “Melts in your mouth, not in your hands” (M&Ms), the benefits are less clear. And I'd argue that USPs that communicate a true benefit speak more to audiences.

I personally think using the UBP is superior to USP if not only for that fact that it forces you to think differently. You create different associations when you go from a 'selling' mode to a 'buying' one. No longer do you think “this product is unique”, but rather, “people need this because _____”.

Just my 2 cents worth.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

A Hundred Cats in an IKEA Store

Imagine a hundred cats in a furniture store. Aside from the smell, the torn curtains, scratched furniture and likely, plenty of poop, the image doesn't sound particularly enthralling. Or hygienic. Except the result is a surprisingly warm and beautifully shot TVC for IKEA UK's campaign for the launch of their 2011 catalogue. The footage shows cats jumping off tables, napping amongst stuff toys and playing with IKEA's ever-great-value price tags. See here:

More than just a bad pun, the way Mother London (the agency behind the campaign) delivered the 'cat-alogue' campaign is interesting, in that it explores the idea that cats live their lives in the pursuit of pure comfort and happiness. And, of course, what better place than IKEA?

The TVC is part of the larger 'Happy Inside' campaign, where viewers can identify the pieces of furniture chosen by the cats for a chance to win the items. The participants can then share their guesses with friends on the IKEA Cats Facebook page.

Now, I wonder what would happen if they just added a dog to the mix...

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

SERIES: Social Media Lessons for Brand Marketers

The power of social media lies in the fact that everyone can contribute, converse and connect over something they're passionate about. Whether it be a cause, product, brand or celebrity, there are devoted fans who relentlessly advocate and promote their passions. In the eyes of brand marketers, this represents untapped potential that can help raise brand loyalty and generate a devoted legion of fans. At the same time, it's also a risk that brand marketers must be willing to take, as stepping into social media is not a simple task.

There are many different ways brand marketers can use social media, and depending on their tools and approach, many can succeed. In this series of articles, I’ll explore some of the successful (and not so successful) cases and what brand marketers can learn from them. As an introduction to this series, we’ll have a look at Dell Computers, who has over the course of two years, netted $6.5million dollars in profit via social media.

As one of the largest technology corporations in the world, Dell also happens to be one of the most active in social media. Its Dell Community features a unique mixture of social media that ousts its rivals in both its breath and quality. For example, the community has a range of blogs that reflects its business segments and key channels; this includes blogs that specially discuss education and enterprise IT. The range of such blogs ensures that Dell brings news, information and discussion that cater specifically to target audiences, and with this definite structure of blogs, it also means that conversations can be easily managed. In the eyes of brand marketers, this makes managing a brand easier, since the blogs thus act as direct channels to key audiences.

In a similar fashion, Dell organizes its Twitter channel so that there is a clear structure to marketing and generating conversations surrounding their brand and products. In total, Dell has over 35 different Twitter accounts, each reflecting a different brand and marketing purpose. For some, the purpose is to act as a channel to market products, such as @Biz_Dell_AU, which talk to business owners and provides updates on sales and discounts. On the other hand, there are Twitter accounts which are more community-based, like @Dell_Insights which communicate latest news and information on the technology sector. To a brand marketer, these accounts demonstrate how Dell has intentionally broken down its branding strategy so each Twitter account reflects how Dell wishes to be perceived by certain audiences. In the Twitter channels targeted to small businesses, Dell is seen as the brand that provides the latest tips and news for business owners; whilst for those targeted to technology professionals, Dell is seen as a thought leader and filter of quality technology news and information.

When we see the bigger picture, it's clear that Dell’s use of social media reflects its size and resources. Naturally, not all companies will be able to manage numerous Twitter accounts and blogs. However, in this particular case, the important lesson for brand marketers is to understand the underlying strategic approaches to branding using social media. What it also demonstrates is that social media is overall, an extension of Dell's existing brand marketing strategies. It's incredible ROI, however illustrates how social media can help raise not only brand profile, but ultimately, company revenues.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

What is Online Community Management anyways?

The internet is one enormous community. And this community talks. A lot. They create blogs and content, post comments and feedback, and ultimately create discussions and drive conversations on an incredible range of things. So whatever industry you’re in, or whatever product you may be selling, chances are, people are talking about you. A quick search will prove this, and will show you why more and more companies are paying attention to online community management.

Think of Wikipedia for a moment. It’s a huge community, with 7,000 new articles created each day and 10 million edits per month. And one reason which contributes to its success is because there are editors who manage and oversee the evolution of articles. Online community management is similar, but on a much larger scale. Because there is so much conversation going on, companies not only want to know what is said about them, but they also want to get into the conversation and understand their market, their competitors and consumer better.

Whilst any company can read what consumers are saying about their products or brand, trying to make sense of the sheer volume of information can be overwhelming. Thus, when delving into online community management, many companies decide to employ online community managers who act as their eyes and ears, who help them break down exactly what communities are saying about them. From this comes however, comes the most important part; companies need to determine the purpose of their online community manager. Is it to promote a new product? Or is it to conduct primary research? Or perhaps it’s to see how they could improve their products? Whatever the purpose it is, it will set out the sort of tasks and methods online community managers will use.

Regardless of the purpose however, there are still basic foundations to online community management. To successfully manage online communities firstly requires a good understanding of online channels, and that’s not just social media, but includes any community websites that are relevant to the company's purpose. For example, an online community manager working for a cat food company will have accounts in the usual Twitter, Facebook, Youtube and Google Reader, but also will also monitor popular cat owner websites, discussion boards, blogs and channels. They would also have set up keyword tracking and alerts. If it is to conduct a research on the popularity of competitors’ products, online community mangers may set up keyword tracking for this.

However, another thing to bear in mind is the importance of listening and monitoring what is being said in these online communities. Without a solid understanding of the key stakeholders in these online communities, diving into conversations will be both meaningless and fruitless. When the online community manager is comfortable however, they may start engaging in these conversations, perhaps starting with replying to posts, providing feedback, and from there, create posts and begin blogging.

The foundations of online community management are to build, grow and manage communities around a brand, cause or topic. But in order to do this, companies must be willing to be a part of the community. If their sole purpose is to monitor online communities so they can directly market to them, it may come off as insincere and may backlash, causing damage to brand reputation. Successful online community management drills down to active listening, and from there determining the necessary steps to achieve company objectives. Ultimately, online community management is similar to customer service; you have firstly listen so you know what people want, and how you can help.

Here, here and here.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Mishaps On The Way To Abstraction.

For most people, the problem with abstract art is exactly that, it's abstract. And I've always thought that in this respect, the role of art galleries and museums was to help educate, if not broaden the minds of those who perceive art as something for the elite. This is especially true for abstract art, which inevitably, a lot of the public dismiss that their four year old kid could make. Unfortunately, the Art Gallery of NSW's latest exhibition, 'Paths to Abstraction', didn't do enough to help people appreciate or understand the much misunderstood art of abstraction.

I'm not saying the AGNSW put on a poor exhibition, because it certainly explores abstraction thoroughly and examines its beginnings and influences from interesting angles. But the lack of clarity on this topic for the general public was disappointing. Whilst the information provided and the audio tour were indeed thorough, it catered to the 20% of attendees who could tell a Kandinsky from a Matisse. The exhibition therefore disregarded the remaining 80% who needed some guidance on how to see value in and appreciate abstract art. They need a general framework to understand why a something like this is valued:

Kasimir Malevich House under construction 1915-1916

If people are forking out $20 for the exhibition ($25 including the audio tour), they expect to leave with some understanding or greater knowledge of abstraction. Of course, the gallery cannot change the way people think or feel about abstract art, but in knowing the general public perceive abstract art differently from themselves, the curators should have considered how to present artworks and information in more a digestible manner.

That said, 'Paths to Abstraction' does contain fine works by major artists, including Monet, Picasso Matisse, Kandinsky and Mondrian, which some may feel compensate for curatorship oversights. I just wished the AGNSW had given more thought into the exhibition, so people don't come out feeling like they spent $20 on something a four year old could make.

WHEN: 26th June - 19th September 2010
WHERE: Art Gallery of NSW, The Domain, Sydney
COSTS: $20 Adults, $15 AGNSW Members/Concession, $55 Family (two adults and up to three children). $5 for audio tour.
LINK: Art Gallery of NSW 'Paths to Abstraction'