Body Conscious: COVID Lingers, Brave Brands Get Human

I did a scary thing a few weeks ago. I went on an international trip. In my defense, I had purchased my ticket after months of steep declines in COVID infection rates. It was at about the same time that Extra gum dropped this euphoric spot.

But within mere weeks, Extra gum and I (and the rest of the world) were slapped backwards by the delta variant. My plane ticket, so recently a badge of better times morphed instead into a non-refundable portrait of naiveté. But after a year-and-a-half of suspended animation, something in me snapped. If I didn’t go now, it would be another year (minimum) until I saw my family again. So with an abundance of N95 masks and my vaccination card in hand, I set out into the world. Never had I been so keenly aware of my body in relation to others… its proximity, systems and relative frailty. I skirted people in rest rooms, turned my head at the sound of a sneeze and dutifully pulled up my mask between bites and sips. When it was all over and I returned home healthy and much happier, I also brought back with me a deep appreciation for my earthly vehicle.

By the looks of today’s creative landscape, many ad agencies are experiencing that same appreciation. A new crop of creative is here, and it’s neither as somber and dignified as 2020’s offerings with their ubiquitous “we’re in this together” approach, nor as jubilant and hedonistic as the spots we started to see as the pandemic seemed to wind down. What’s emerging now as a strong thread is the marvel that is the human body. That includes butts.

Part of me is taken aback by a brand being so base/lighthearted as ICUs start to swell with the sick. Another part marvels that it took us so long to get here. This isn’t to say that I welcome a wave of chatty derrières. But I do sympathize with all the creative teams trying to position brands during this supersonic rollercoaster we’ve been riding the past two years. Perhaps it was inevitable (even emotionally healthy) that in the face of our absurd and often demoralizing reality brands have started to answer in kind.

Elsewhere in Creativity Land, the attention is on the female reproductive system: its vagaries and marvels. As a womb owner myself, I was floored by the raw beauty of this piece by BBDO London for BodyForm (a UK manufacturer of feminine hygiene products). It’s no wonder that it took the Titanium Grand Prize at the Cannes Lions creativity awards this past June.

Last among today’s examples is Mastercard’s True Name initiative, brought to life by McCann in New York. It’s less about physical bodies than it is about identity, agency and empathy, and focuses on the experiences of the trans community. The spot bears including as a counterpoint to the other examples as a reminder that our bodies don’t define our existence. How we live does.

What do you think? Does this focus on the human body hearten, offend or surprise you? Share your thoughts.

Don’t Call It a Comeback

Seriously, don’t. As much as I love myself some LL Cool J, this is less of a triumphant return to WordPress than it is a “peeking my head above ground to make sure the world is still spinning” post.

And so it is. The Capitol riot criminals are (slllllllowly) being brought to justice; COVID keeps circling the globe in new and terrifying forms; and the rituals of daily life—having held their breath as long as they could—have shivered, shaken themselves off, and adapted to meet life in a strange new world. In a nutshell, everyone and everything is evolving, not past fear and uncertainty, but in step with it.

What does this mean for how we craft communications and tell stories? Here’s a hint, marketing friends: we are WAY past, “Life may look a little different these days, but one thing is for certain… .”

More soon, DaeTrippers! I’ve missed you.

How to Spot Bias in Real News

(Estimated read time: 6 minutes)

Chances are, you’re evaluating your news more critically these days. If you aren’t, check out this 1-minute tutorial on how to spot fake news. Intentionally misleading news isn’t the only media bias to watch for, though. Everyone carries subconscious assumptions that influence how they perceive the world, including journalists who write legitimate  news. I recently read an item via a reputable source that reminded me of that fact.

It was a pictorial by Business Insider about a prototype tiny home designed to help alleviate Hong Kong’s housing shortage. But before I dive into the article, here’s a bit about the tiny home trend. As defined by, it is a social movement where people are choosing to downsize the space they live in. The typical American home is around 2,600 square feet, whereas the typical small or tiny house is between 100 and 400 square feet.

It’s a subject of recent fascination in the U.S., as evidenced by the myriad current cable shows on the subject including Tiny House Nation, Tiny House Hunting, Tiny House World and Tiny House, Big Living. Or just type “tiny house” into Pinterest. And you know a trend has hit maximum cultural density when it’s lampooned on the sketch comedy Portlandia:

Parody aside, there are excellent reasons for choosing a tiny home. Freedom is a big one—from thirty years of crushing mortgage payments, and from the extraneous stuff with which we fill our homes. Sustainability is another, since tiny homes consume less energy and thus leave a smaller carbon footprint.

Framing Hong Kong’s Housing Shortage
But is there a point at which tiny homes cross the line from liberating to elitist? The answer is yes, at least as far as how they are portrayed. Consider these photos from the Business Insider article I referenced above. They feature a prototype home called the “OPod”, which is fashioned from concrete water pipes. Each unit includes a sofa that folds out into a bed, shelving, a mini fridge, a microwave, and a bathroom with a shower.

James Law of Cybertecture inside a protype tube home - image courtesy James Law Cybertecture

“In Hong Kong, many people live in squalid conditions or partition dwellings,” says James Law, whose architecture firm designed the OPod. “There are extremely high rents, housing costs, and inadequate public housing. [At $15,000 USD], the OPod is an inexpensive alternative.”



Having visited Hong Kong a few times, I understand the intent. Living space is a fraction of what we are accustomed to in the U.S., at least in mid- and smaller-sized cities, suburbs, and rural communities. And it’s hard to argue with providing people the opportunity to move from “squalor” to sleek, well-lit modernity, even if that means you’re only getting 100 square feet of sleek. Yet there’s something about the OPod that doesn’t quite feel right to me, so I shared the article with a Chinese friend in Hong Kong. Her response brought my vague unease into sharp focus:

“The tube home works for designers and architects if tourists or backpackers find it interesting,” she wrote plainly. “But I wish to have our limited dignity respected by walls and ceiling. We [the Chinese people] have been too well-known for [being] short of money—not short of land—to buy a little small home. ”

It was jarring to hear my highly accomplished friend express a desire for dignity. She’s pretty much the definition of it. So I revisited the article as best I could through her eyes, and ouch! That’s when the rest of the photos went from looking smart and futuristic to downright dehumanizing. See what you think:

-between-buildings-OPods in a space between buildings. 

OPods under an elevated freeway. 

OPods stacked in a shipyard.

Reading Real News with a Critical Eye
Part of that dehumanizing air comes from the visual effect of grouped units, which for me evoke honeycombs, ergo bees. Add to that the echoing drone of traffic (you live under a highway, remember?), and the hive metaphor is complete. And none of that even addresses the implications of impermanence. Since OPods were designed as a temporary living solution, the units are transportable. What becomes of the OPod owner unable to move “up” and out to a permanent living situation?

It isn’t just the photos that cast Hong Kong’s citizens in an inferior light. Some of the captions do, too. One states, “The tube homes measure 100 square feet. For perspective, a standard one-car garage is about 200 square feet.” Firstly, the statement normalizes garage ownership, when the amenity is not dictated solely by affluence, but by available space (space such as you might find in an American suburb—not in a harbor-based mega city). And secondly, it subconsciously invites the image of a person living in an unheated space meant for a machine and garbage cans.

Another caption reads, “Each tube home will cost $15,000. That’s not cheap, but it’s much less than the average price of a new home in Hong Kong: $1.8 million for a 600-square-foot unit, according to one estimate.”

Let’s look at that latter sentence. One issue is that it draws a direct comparison between the price of a new, permanent, 600 square foot home and a temporary, 100 square foot concrete tube. Another is that it does not stipulate whether potential OPod residents are mostly current renters with no aspirations to buy real estate. If they are, then the caption is creating a false comparison between renters and buyers to dramatic effect.

In conclusion, I don’t think OPods or temporary housing are bad. I’m simply using the popularity of the tiny house movement as a way to demonstrate that even legitimate news media can re-enforce stereotypes (in this case, that China is so poor and overpopulated that its citizens are compelled to live in 8-foot-wide tube stacked in shipyards). The fact is that all people, including ethical news writers and content consumers, bring implicit bias to stories. It’s our job as thoughtful humans and communicators to be reflexive about them.

Additional Resources

Intro to the OPod and Hong Kong’s Housing Issues (video)
The ‘Coffin Homes’ of Hong Kong
How to Detect Bias in the News
Tiny House, Big Benefits
Tiny House Grow in Popularity, Yet Drawbacks Abound

Silicon Valley Repents

(Estimated reading time: 10 minutes)

sad zuck

Mark Zuckerburg is sorry. Last week, the father of social media shook the industry by announcing a major overhaul to Facebook’s News Feed algorithm. “I’m changing the goal I give our product teams from focusing on helping you find relevant content (read videos, photos, and posts from businesses and media outlets) to helping you have more meaningful social interactions,” he wrote on his Facebook page.

Right around the same time, Apple released a statement saying that it “cared deeply about how our products are used and the impact they have on users and the people around them,” adding that it was working on a few features to address tech addiction.

So what’s with the sudden case of “tethics” (technology-related ethics)? A disenchanted and increasingly vocal user population, that’s what. And not just user-plebes like you and me, but major investors. Such is the case at Apple, whose statement above came on the heels of an open letter sent to their board of directors by two of its largest shareholders. The shareholders called for more psychologically-healthy products, citing studies by prominent researchers about the negative effects of tech consumption on younger users. These ranged from sleep deprivation and a decreased ability to focus on educational tasks all the way up to an increased risk of suicide.

Like Apple, Facebook’s new conscience arrived less spontaneously than it might seem. For one thing, the platform needs to shake off a number of rep-tarnishing controversies, from the censorship of a Pulitzer Prize-winning photo to its failure to prevent the spread of misinformation in the months leading to the U.S. 2016 presidential election. But perhaps even more importantly, Facebook’s own influential friends (or former friends as the case may be) are the ones calling for change.

Take Sean Parker, Facebook’s former president. In a recent interview, he admitted that from the platform’s beginning, the goal was to consume as much of the user’s time as possible. To ensure that, rewards were built in.

“[We realized that] we needed to sort of give you a little dopamine hit every once in a while because someone liked or commented on a photo or a post or whatever…” says Parker. “It’s a social validation feedback loop You’re exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology [The inventors] understood this, consciously, and we did it anyway.”

A Call for Accountability
That exploitation of human psychology has other industry notables crying foul. Aaron Weyenberg, Director of Research and Development at TED, says he’s incredulous at how easily tech creators have evaded scrutiny.  “Studies that show how many times we check our devices each day (75 to 150 depending on the study) are often followed by narratives using the language and tone of self-blame (addiction, narcissism, boredom, etc). Those narratives are rarely accompanied by what’s happening on the other side of the product development cycle: The designer’s invisible hand meddling with the controls.”

Weyenberg goes on to describe this meddling in terms of three major factors: behavioral research that enables the incorporation of addictive properties into products; incentives that exclude user well being; and the lightening speed at which designers can analyze our online behavior to optimize their efforts. And given our reliance on devices combined with our ignorance regarding the myriad subtle ways we’re being manipulated, he believes that the average technology user is no match for the creator’s built-in hooks.

That’s where design ethics come in. Design ethics are principles that encourage creators to actively consider their moral responsibilities in shaping consumer experience, thinking and behavior. Perhaps the best-known standard for ethical design was developed in the 1970s, by German designer Dieter Rams. Fed up with what he saw as a proliferation of confusing, extravagant and wasteful design, he created his Ten Principles for Good Design to help fellow creators ensure that their work was useful, innovative, honest and environmentally sound. It remains a guiding beacon to this day, save for one little problem: Rams was unable to foresee the looming import and effect of design on today’s technology-dependent society.

Uh-oh. Perhaps I’m starting to sound a little alarmist, right? After all, we’re the ones holding our devices, making choices about when and how we interact with them. Tristan Harris thinks maybe not. He’s a former Google design ethicist with big concerns about technology’s effect on society. In a disquieting TED talk, he observes that, “Never before in history have such a small number of designers – a handful of young, mostly male engineers, living in the Bay Area of California, working at a handful of tech companies – had such a large influence on two billion people’s thoughts and choices.

Often times, he argues, this influence is used to keep you hooked. Harris likens smartphones to slot machines, both which maximize “addictiveness” with intermittent variable rewards. With a slot machine, you pull a handle and instantly receive either a reward, or nothing. That random chance for a match keeps you coming back in search of pleasurable outcome. Our phones offer the same constant possibility of reward in the form of likes, tags, replies, follows, texts or any other affirmation gambits. That keeps us coming back, sometimes hundreds of times a day. And each of those visits is another mini-window to engage and sell us.

What Harris, Weyenberg, and Apple’s stakeholders are calling for is a more deliberative approach to technology–designs, policies and systems that foreground the well being of the user–and ultimately, society. Essentially, it’s what Mark Zuckerberg says he proposes to do with his shift to Facebook’s algorithm. His is a good example and a first step, but Facebook is just one player in a universe of apps and media platforms. So the really big question is this: how can ethical design be incorporated (enforced?) on a universal scale?

Tech That Cares
It’s Time for Apple to Build a Less Addictive iPhone” declares tech writer Farhad Manjoo in this week’s New York Times. His article examines the question of who might have the best chance to enforce ethical tech design. Turns out, industry experts are looking inside the field–straight at Apple. That’s partially due to the fact that the company has always been a game-changer (hell, its motto is Think Differently); and just as much because Apple isn’t actually responsible for the excesses of the digital ad business. To put it another way, Apple’s business model does not depend on tech addiction; the company makes most of its money by selling premium devices at high profit margins. Plus, notes Manjoo, Apple may not be in the ad business, but it exerts control over it. Every tech company needs a presence on the iPhone or iPad.

But even if Apple were to take a stand, what might that look like? For this, Manjoo spoke with Tristan Harris.

Imagine if, once a week, your phone gave you a report on how you spent your time, similar to how your activity tracker tells you how sedentary you were last week,” suggests Harris. “It could also needle you [by name], e.g.: ‘XXXXX, you spent half your week scrolling through Twitter. Do you really feel proud of that?’ [Or] It could offer to help: ‘If I notice you spending too much time on Snapchat next week, would you like me to remind you?’”

There are other, less personalized (or invasive, depending on your preferences) tactics too, posits Harris in the piece. For instance, Apple could require application designers to assign priority levels to their notifications. Instead of the all-or-nothing notification system we know today (constant interruption, drained battery), there could be levels for heavy, regular and light users. “And then Apple could say, by default, that everyone is in the middle level. [It could] instantly save users a ton of energy in dealing with this.”

In a sense, these ideas all point to the need to update Ram’s Ten Principles of Good Design; to add something that addresses loopholes and provides a steady hand in the connected age. And while this might sound sacrilegious to reverent devotees, Aaron Weyenberg champions this view.  He argues that we think of the Principles less as commandments set in stone, and more like a charter or constitution.

“Thomas Jefferson kept a version of the New Testament that he edited himself,” notes Weyenberg. Historians say he ‘did not produce his small book to shock or offend a somnolent world; he composed it for himself, for his devotion, for his assurance, for a more restful sleep at nights and a more confident greeting of the mornings.’ That’s how I think of modifying Dieter Rams’ principles. The original is sacrosanct, so I forked my own version.”

Here’s Weyenberg’s amendment (what he calls the 11th Principle):

11. Good design is ethical. The product places the user’s interest at the center of its purpose. Any effort to influence the user’s agency or behavior is in the spirit of their own positive well being, and the well being of those around them.

It sounds almost utopian–like something on the wall of a futuristic creative agency in the Star Trek universe. But I’m skeptical. Silicon Valley isn’t just a poster child for innovation and entrepreneurship, but for capitalism, too. With the billions of dollars being made on ads, apps, and disposable devices, what’s the incentive for big business to put the customer first?

If you think like Farhad Manjoo (the NYT tech writer we met above), that incentive is customer loyalty and a halo effect. “Done right, a full-fledged campaign pushing the benefits of a more deliberative approach to tech wouldn’t come off as self-interest, but in keeping with Apple’s best vision of itself–as a company that looks out for the interests of humanity in an otherwise cold and sometimes inhumane industry.”

As the owner of an iPhone, iPad, and several MacBooks, that’s a portrait of Apple that I don’t quite recognize. Absolutely I love the products’ sleek designs and intuitive interfaces. But I’ve also felt the sting of shoddy power cords that cost $100 to replace, or buying a new device only to have all accessories rendered obsolete by a redesigned socket. Then again, if Apple decided that the 11th principle did make good business sense, I’d be happily hooked forever.


“The Techlash Against Amazon, Facebook and Google–and what they can do about it”, The Economist, Eve Smith, 1.20.2018

Never Get High on Your Own Supply–Why Social Media Bosses Don’t Use Social Media,” The Guardian, Alex Hern, 1.23.2018

Just Accept It

It’s been four months since the U.S. presidential election. Four months of shock or satisfaction, vindication or defiance, depending on one’s politics. It’s also been four months of watching “friendships” (I’m using the Facebook definition here) challenged, crumble or strengthened on social media. But of all the arguments and exhortations I’ve seen, the sentiment that sticks out most to me is, “He’s our president now. Just accept it and move on.”

Just accept it and move on. These are valuable skills to teach oneself, given that we’ll all bear our share of bad news, disappointments, and unchangeable circumstances. Depending on the situation, “just accepting” something can save our sanity and give us hope, leading to perhaps my favorite life mantra that, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”

Besides, accepting reality is a two-way street—and scores of advertisers have stepped forward to remind us of that. Double-click the photos below to watch just of few of a new breed of equity-based commercials.

Swedish Railways:


City of New Orleans:




Coca Cola:


First three images courtesy of Final image courtesy

Kick but.

I’ve always preferred March over January as a time to make healthy changes. Maybe it’s the extra light and another hour in the day, but I have more energy for conquering my goals. (so look out, you pesky five pounds that climbed aboard this holiday season)

Now, let’s say that you exercised more restraint than me at this year’s celebrations. Maybe you even started today by looking over your shoulder into a mirror and thinking, nice rear view, self. Good for you! Stick around, though, because we’re going to talk about a different “but(t)”.  This tiny, seemingly inconsequential word has crept into our everyday parlance, changing how we’re perceived in the workplace and draining our sense of control. I’m not opining that “but” is always to be avoided; rather that it deserves consideration before deployment.

One of the most common mistakes we can make with the word “but” is using it in the place of “and”. Stanford professor Bernard Roth studies the power of language*, and notes that this substitution happens so commonly that it’s overlooked. That’s dangerous, because it can change a neutral statement into a negative one.

Roth gives the example of someone who is afraid of flying and has just gotten an amazing internship on the other side of the country. When deciding if they can take the internship they’ll examine the situation by saying, “I want this internship, but I’m afraid of flying.” Roth explains that by mentally connecting the two truths with a “but,” that “the person is tricking themselves into believing that their amazing opportunity is in fact a negative situation.”

Is this internship lost? Not if the person swaps “but” for “and”. With this simple substitution, the speaker transforms from a victim to an empowered person who knows her/his weakness and will deal with it accordingly. To say to oneself, “I want this internship, and I’m afraid of flying” opens doors to all sorts of solutions, from learning to meditate during flights to allowing enough time for a long drive. “And” gives the speaker back her/his power.

Another reason to use the word “but” sparingly is that it puts your conversational partner on the defensive.

Imagine that a colleague has just come to you excited about a slogan he has for the latest marketing campaign. Unfortunately, it’s one that has been riffed to death, and it’s not going to communicate that your brand is relevant or high quality. You could say:

“Thanks, Tom! We’re always looking for creative ways to reach prospects and love that you want to help, but I think that that phrase has been used by X company and maybe even Y, so I’m not sure it’s going to differentiate us as much as we’d like.”

While you worked hard to be enthusiastic and gently truthful, the reality is that the second Tom heard you pause and use the word “but,” he immediately started formulating an apologetic/defensive response. Additionally, his pride was probably hurt, and he may also have thought that you’re insincere (if you love creative ideas so much, why didn’t you accept his?).

Now consider how things might have played out had you kept “but” out of the conversation:

“Thanks, Tom! I like that your slogan is succinct, yet still manages to pack in a lot of personality. In order for us to consider using it, it needs to be checked against the U.S. government’s trademark database.  That’s to make sure nobody has beat us to it. If I give you that URL, would you mind investigating?”

By eliminating “but”, you’ve found a way for Tom to make his own discovery about the slogan. Sure, he’ll be disappointed to learn that it’s already trademarked; but he’ll make that discovery privately, and with the bonus of knowing that others also found the idea good enough to copyright. And, he can tell you this on his own terms.

The moral of these stories? If used thoughtlessly, one tiny word can wreck havoc with your intent and negatively influence your interactions with others. This spring, why not join me in adding more control and compassion to your communications?:  swap in “and,” and kick your “buts”. #



*The inspiration for this post came from a Fast Company article by Michael Grothaus entitled “5 Words and Phrases That Can Transform Your Work Life”. Paragraphs three and four are directly derived from that article. 

Buy Me a Wink, First

How do you prefer your ads these days?

That’s not a trick question. Understanding that the media you consume has to be funded somehow, would you rather be trailed by the boots you peeked at on Zappos, or watch your favorite TV character ponder life’s challenges whilst swigging a Coors?

Let’s talk about digital retargeting. You check out a product online, and then that product starts popping up on the sites you visit afterwards. Some people (particularly digital migrants) see this as a Big Brotherish breach of privacy. But I like these responses, courtesy of the Hubspot marketing blog:

“Do you also think Amazon is creepy? If so, I’m not sure you really understand why websites and marketers personalize. It’s all about creating a better user experience for your site’s visitors and providing relevant information to the right people at the right time, not showing off your ability to track every move someone has taken on your site.”  – Marc Herschberger, Revenue River Marketing

“When talking to marketers who think tracking and personalization are creepy, I compare their websites to a brick-and-mortar store. You know when someone is window shopping, who has come in, and what products they are looking at. Tracking and personalization provide this level of service for the digital world.” – William McKee, Knowmad

A photo of Willy Wonka smiling creepily with the words

I agree. If it’s done right, personalized marketing is not so much Big Brother as it is the Busy Buyer’s Helper. It’s when the merchant’s algorithm isn’t well-nuanced that things go wrong, like the time I picked up a baby-shower-themed Target gift card and started receiving useless (to a strategically child-free me) items in the mail, including baby formula and a promotional subscription to Parenting magazine.

Let’s talk about another example: product integration. That’s when an advertiser pays to have her product written into a show. Product integration has roots in radio, when sponsorship reigned. During the Golden Age of radio, rich-voiced announcers extolled the virtues of Burma Shave and Ivory Soap, and reminded listeners that the program they’d just enjoyed was brought to them by smooth, satisfying Chesterfield cigarettes.

It’s been with the rise of visual media, however, that the lines between product and content have blurred. Sure, the ads that proceed movies and interrupt tv shows have always been aggressively overt. But as technology has developed, so has our ability to fast forward, skip, and watch online. These changes have caused what TV critic Emily Nussbaum calls an “economic crises of television;” one which is forcing advertisers to embed their products in increasingly opaque ways. In a fascinating New Yorker article, she bemoans this lack of transparency:

“Product integration is a small slice of the advertising budget, but it can take on outsized symbolic importance, as the watermark of a sponsor’s power to alter the story—and it is often impossible to tell whether the mention is paid or not. ‘The Mindy Project’ celebrates Tinder. An episode of ‘Modern Family’ takes place on iPods and iPhones… . [And on] the CW’s ‘Jane the Virgin,’ characters make trips to Target, carry Target bags, and prominently display the logo.”

Nussbaum argues that these integrated placements dupe audiences by creating an impossible-to-win game. There’s a common notion that there’s good and bad integration,” she warns. “The ‘bad’ stuff is bumptious—unfunny and in your face. ‘Good’ integration is either invisible or ironic, and it’s done by people we trust, like Stephen Colbert or Tina Fey…  [But] To my mind, the cleverer the integration, the more harmful it is. It’s a sedative designed to make viewers feel that there’s nothing to be angry about… .”

 Above: Stephen Colbert using transparency and irony to sell Sabra hummus.

She’s right, of course. Overtly and covertly, we’re being sold. But to wish otherwise is unrealistic. Besides, viewers aren’t powerless. With a click of a button, we can end the game. The marketer and rhetorician in me enjoys it, though. There are things I’m going to buy, and I don’t mind merchants making their pitches. I’m not asking them to buy me dinner before I pull out my wallet. All I want is a wink that lets me know that they know I know. Plus, that wink is costing them plenty.


The Shape of Things to Come

I just fulfilled a long-standing wish to visit Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater.

A photo of Frank Lloyd Wright's mid-century masterpiece, Fallingwater--a modern vacation home built for the Kaufman family (of May's dept store fame) in southern rural Pennsylvania.What impressed me the most was how far ahead of its time it was, design-wise. It looks more like a sylvan trysting lair for Don Draper than the weekend retreat of the outdoorsy Kaufmann family (of Macy’s department store fame), who commissioned the home in 1935—decades before “mid-century” and “atomic” became design parlance.

A photo of the livingroom of Falllingwater. Very mid-century design.

Image via More fab interior shots of Fallingwater at

Volumes have been written on the cultural, financial, and creative factors that went into Fallingwater’s singular design. But as a modern-day marketer, the strongest lesson I took away was to soothe and delight my clients.

The case for modern minimalism

Why cultivate calm and delight? First, because our clients are people: over-scheduled, under-rested, attention-fractured people. They’d appreciate a break. And second, it’s smart business. In a world where attention spans have shrunk to seven seconds and Gen Z toggles effortlessly between five screens, whatever we design, film, or write must hook in the tap of a fingertip. That hook can be simplicity.

Do you think I’m overstating the power of minimalist design? Then I invite you to watch just seven seconds (I know you’ve got that—and more, if you’re above average) of the 1965 animated short (below) called The Dot and the Line: A Romance in Lower Mathematics. If you’re the super-antsy type, skip the opening credits and start at 1:13.

Dot and Line‘s author, Norton Juster (he also wrote The Phantom Tollbooth), collaborated with some of the 60s’ best animators to create a film that captured the societal schisms of the day and played them out against an aural background that was just as polar. Thanks to an ethos of playfulness, though, what could have been heavy-handed commentary or a dry geometry lesson zips along in a dazzlingly spare display.

Looking back to look ahead

So, if Fallingwater was conceived as a millionaire’s playhouse, and Dot and Line was an exercise in jazzy animation, what do either have to do with effective 21st-century marketing? In short, both defied convention in ways that still defy and transcend clutter. Just think of the positive brand associations waiting to be garnered when you create a micro-oasis midst today’s din and distraction! Here’s a couple of examples via SpyreStudios to get you inspired:

Minimalist CNN International print ad, shaped like a spider web with initials CNN in middle with caption A print add for McDonalds that touts free wifi. Three french fries arranged in the wifi symbol against a McDonald's red background.A Lego-brand print add that shows a single white lego in a field of blue. Look closely: the shadow of the leg is a ship. hinting at the potential to build with the product.

And from a DaeTrip post earlier this year, the quietly brilliant animated short, “Nuggets,” by Filmbilder:

Do you have a fave masterpiece of minimalism? Share it here on DaeTrip!

Marketers, Meet Homelanders

Astute readers of DaeTrip will recognize this as a nominally updated post from last fall. It bears sharing again due to the emergence of an alternate title for Gen Z as The Homelanders or Homeland Generation (a reference to the fact that its members grew up in the shadow of 9/11). Plus, those of us in higher education marketing are still getting to know this, our youngest generation. 

A bar chart depicting depicting the ages and numbers of US citizens in each of the generational categoruiies, including The Silent Generation, Baby Boomers, Gen X, Geny/Millennials, and GenZ/Homelanders

Image: U.S. Census Bureau, White House

If you’ve been a youth marketer for some time, you may have become comfortable with what you know about Millennials (Gen Y); but be careful not to lump them together with Gen Z under a monolithic “younger demographic” category. The groups are distinct in ways that should effect how and where you invest your marketing dollars.

Generation Z (Homelanders)              vs            Generation Y (Millennials)

Sparks & Honey (slideshare):

Sparks & Honey (slideshare): “Forget Everything You Know About Gen Z”

A lot’s changed in a short time, but don’t panic. If you’ve been creating content to engage Gen Y, you’re well on your way.

Consider the jump from 2 to 5 screens. When it comes to your web properties, you’ve likely already changed to responsive design. Now you need to review how your properties are displaying across myriad devices. Is your navigation succinct and intuitive? Is your most valuable content still in the top slots, or has something important been shunted to the side (or doesn’t even appear at all)? In any case, be sure to share your prioritized marcomm goals for your websites with your institution’s online programming and development professionals. Another tip? DON’T carelessly flick on their office lights as you enter. They hate that.

Or what about that jump from text to images? You’ve already made inroads as you’ve ruthlessly and consistently edited your print and digital copy to suit Y’s fractured attentions. Now step back and assess: Are you looking at informational tidbits that will communicate key messages to Gen Z in less than 8 seconds? If so, stop reading now. You are a marketing superhero. If not, keep going! It’s a short leap from abbreviated text to visual messaging – especially in these days of automated infographic software and social media sites that run on images alone (Instagram, tumblr, Pinterest, I’m looking at you).

Additional reading on Marketing to GenZ/Homelanders:

Mashable: “Does the Homeland Generation even exist if you can’t market to it?”

Marketo: “Meet Generation Z: Marketing’s Next Big Audience [Infographic]”

Sparks & Honey (slideshare): “Meet Generation Z: Forget Everything…”

2 Times Instagram Surprised Me This Month

Instagram just gets me. It’s succinct, colorful, and doesn’t get pouty when I can’t stay long.

But when I popped by to ogle some @designseeds palettes a few weeks back, Instagram (or @natgeo, one of National Geographic’s many accounts) wanted to talk. Here’s the post it used to break the ice:

Photo of a young Lebanese man veiled and made up as a woman, and kneeling on a bed.The caption:

“’This is the tradition. I know that he will keep trying, and if he doesn’t do it with his own hand one of the family members will… but I was born this way and I will die this way!’

Jessie is a young #transgender woman living in a Palestinian refugee camp in #Lebanon. Because of her gender identity, her brother and father have tried to kill her several times. She shared her story for the #WhereLoveIsIllegal campaign, a platform for #LGBT stories of survival. To read her testimony, go to @WhereLoveIsIllegal and follow the link in the profile. You can also see how to share your own experience of #discrimination and #survival and how you can support. This is a @witness_change project.”

Jessie’s image/story has since been followed by a number of equally harrowing narratives, all of which you can explore on Instagram, facebook, Twitter or at the WhereLoveIsIllegal website.

*   *   *   *   *

My second Instagram surprise came when I casually launched a hastag called #MicroZen. It’s about as far as it can get from @WhereLoveIsIllegal on the continuum of boldness and social import, and nothing more than silent video snapshots of everyday calm or wonder.

MicroZen: Haynado

  Continue reading