Print Story The Branding Iron
Working life
By CheeseburgerBrown (Thu Sep 11, 2008 at 07:41:25 AM EST) (all tags)
Being unemployed would seem sweet right now (aside from the whole poverty/loss of dignity angle, that is).

Details below.

Probably the most onerous part of my job is when they expect me to produce real results. Fortunately this doesn't happen very often. When it does, however, I find myself in the troublesome situation of having to give over most or even all of my workday to actually working.

Karl Marx must be rolling over in his grave.

And when it rains, it pours. This last stretch of production has been particularly sticky because a majority of the roster is filled by production virgins -- that is, clients for whom a media production element is new. Production virgins across the board suffer from the following ineptitudes:
1) Inability to recognize that media production requires an investment of both time and money;
2) Failure to grok the concept that computers don't run themselves, but instead require the applied skills of a competent operator;
3) Chronic conceit that being a watcher of television makes one a sensitive and seasoned judge of issues in design, motion graphics and music;
4) Inability to appreciate the pragmatic ramifications of their own grand visions;
5) Addiction to eleventh hour reversals, and unreasonable expectations that such reversals can be accommodated without incurring additional cost if one simply asks nicely enough and/or applies a modicum of hostility.
Lack of experience in the realm of orchestrating large events also results in corporate brass unswervingly assuming that the person in their organization best suited to make production decisions is someone from the marketing department. If you've ever had to work with a marketing department, you already know the dirty little secret that marketing people aren't qualified to make decisions about what kind of sandwiches to order, let alone to organize a multifaceted spetacle for a thousand people.

It isn't much of a secret, really. The only folks who don't seem to appreciate the inherent limitations of a marketing person are...well, marketing people themselves.

The thing is, marketing attracts people who are basically accountants without spreadsheets. They bring to bear on problems a set of algorithms that involve the very systematic manipulation of the vaguest kind of unknowns -- a set of literal, mechanistic, laser-focused tools for missing the big picture while drowning in details.

For example, a marketer's take on applying brand consistency standards to a set design would involve painting everything on stage with a Pantone match of the dominant colour of the corporate logo. If the logo is green, the marketer will insist that every element of the show be green -- lights, backdrops, video loops, tablecloths, name-tags, speaker podium, banner, presentation templates. "That's branding," they'll explain.

"You must admit there is a certain lack of clarity when formatting presentations green on green with green type."

"But our corporate colour is green."

"I'm pretty sure they know what company they work for. This isn't a public campaign. Maximizing brand recognition is not our primary goal here."


Marketing people are also very sensitive about defending their perception of the "dignity" of their brand, and are terrified of anything they feel may jeopardize this -- including but not limited to: anything fun, anything fresh, anything that may startle the audience into questioning their assumptions about what they can expect to experience during the show. The worst thing a marketing person can imagine is producing something that may lead even an insignificant fraction of the audience "confused." Marketers hate being confused, and they dedicate their lives to making sure no one ever has cause to feel similarly confronted by the heinousness of a mild, even if delightful, surprise.

Surprise is a very, very bad word to marketers. It's like saying "twat" to a priest. No one should ever, ever be surprised by anything.

On the other hand, this same marketer will remind you that the show needs to be "compelling, exciting, dynamic and unique."

The problem there is that most of our shows have a comparable capacity to excite people as a mandatory high school assembly about fire safety. Employees don't choose to give up their family or leisure time to watch their bosses lecture or sermonize or goof around on stage -- they're forced to attend. Making the production elements boring simply adds insult to injury.

I'm working on a show right now that suffers doubly, because the productin virgin brass were so nervous about doing a big, flashy show that they decided to not only put their chief marketing imbecile in charge, but also to bottleneck every decision through their US advertising agency. This means that before the marketing person even gets a chance to screw things up, each element has to be vetted by a bunch of overpaid, self-satisfied, uptalking young American hipsters whose primary mission is to make sure they don't lose any business to us.

Stacked deck, much?

The agency designed a theme graphic for the event modelled after the Latin style of Social Realism, and the marketing person commanded us to follow suit in the media we produced. The graphic featured a beefcake construction worker posing homoerotically beside a steel girder over a stylized cityscape, with a text treatment halfway between Art Deco and Art Nouveau.

For the video to open the event we decided to have construction workers actually building the theme logo out of steel with a series of tight, task-focused shots, revealing the logo in its full glory in the final panorama. I chose Raymond Scott's classic "assembly-line music" made famous by Warner Brothers and Carl Stalling, Powerhouse. The colour palette moved through sunrise to noon to sunset, concluding with a spotlight-swept night-time city. I backlit the scene throughout, keeping the workers as silhouettes in order to avoid potentially objectionable details and to keep the animation complexities low enough to stay manageable within the tight production timeframe.

I lay awake at night when it went to the US agency for approval. I got up in the morning ready to barf at a moment's notice.

But we dodged that bullet -- the creative director was so impressed he called up my producer directly in order to gush about his delighted surprise at getting such a charming and slick animated video in such a short period of time. He said he would be proud to present that kind of work to the client. When my producer and I picked our jaws up off the floor we hooted in celebration.

Seven days passed. Happy to have heard no objections, I prepared to create my master show reels since technical load-in was just days away...

The marketing person called. The video was "unacceptable." It had a litany of major problems. It was a "cartoon" which undermined the dignity of the company and, worse, it wasn't even in the corporate colour. Beyond that, she suggested that we had misunderstood their business, since they were a company of financial consultants who did not, in fact, perform physical labour. The video was "too blue collar."

Producer: "You have to understand that we based our approach on the theme graphic from the agency you've already approved -- it has a construction worker right smack-dab in the middle of it."

Marketer: "Yes, but that was just symbolic."

Unsurprisingly, the issue boiled down to "potential confusion." If the video weren't entirely green and if we didn't show people sitting at desks talking into Bluetooth Douchebag Devices, the audience was likely to become upset and distracted as they wondered where they worked, and whether or not they were even at the correct event. Furthermore, the jazz soundtrack would alienate younger members of the audience who weren't old enough to remember Warner Brothers cartoons. Finally, the cityscape behind the construction site was "too generic" and needed to explicitly reference New York, Toronto and Chicago lest the employees be tempted into forgetting where they lived.

Producer: "That's a lot of changes, here on the cusp of the eleventh hour. You've had a week to review this."

Marketer: "I have other important things to do. Why can't you just drop in some landmarks from New York and Chicago? I can review the video again tomorrow."

Producer: "I don't think we can accommodate that by tomorrow."

Marketer: "Why not? Just drop in some landmarks."

Producer: "Yes, well, you have to appreciate that someone has to build those landmarks before we can just 'drop them in.'"

Marketer: "Doesn't the computer do that?"

My producer covered the mouthpiece of the telephone and muttered some words in Hindi that Babelfish refused to translate for me. Then she got back on the line and valiantly fought against what changes she was able. It was explained that the colour temperature changes helped telegraph the passage of time, and that under no circumstances would it be tenable to re-animate thirty-eight puppets dancing, riveting, welding and hoisting in tight lockstep with the current soundtrack.

While she battled on that front I turned my attention to fighting with our in-house technical director. He had been working this show solo for almost a decade, and was exceedingly grumpy that -- now that there was media production involved -- he had to coordinate with my division. A (usually) lovable curmudgeon, his inability to work well with others is historically accommodated by having him work alone. Our first bone of contention was the set. Because of a bad experience with decorative banners last year (the marketing person insisted on a novella's worth of text on each banner, then complained that they weren't legible from rear of house), there was now a strict embargo on banners.

The TD pored over my stage design with a frown. "No banners," he said.

"But those aren't banners -- they're set pieces printed on fabric."

"That's a banner."

"No, it's a soft set. You see, I'm trying to blend the girders on screen with the girders on stage, in order to blur the line between set and video and create a virtual space behind the precidium."

"We could do the set pieces in foamcore."

"There's no budget for standing flats. That's why I'm having them printed -- it's way cheaper. They hang from the truss tower here and are kept taut by sandbagging this pocket I've designed into the base. They'll look rigid without the expense of building flats."

"Because they're actually banners."

"Don't use the word 'banner.' If you use the word 'banner' with the client, she'll hose the whole thing."

"But they are banners. She said 'no banners.'"

"Did she say 'no set decor'?"

"Of course not."

"Well then, I fail to see the problem. Just call them 'set decor.'"

"But they're banners."

"Have you ever thought about going into marketing?"

So now I'm here replicating the Sears Tower and the Chrysler Building and First Canadian Place for inclusion in the video while my producer is on the phone trying to explain to a dim-witted printer how to create the fold for the sandbags while the Vice President of Getting Shit Done is on another phone trying to source standard weighted sandbags in Mexico. That would normally be the job of the technical director, but he's walked out in a huff after whining that nobody is listening to him complain. I just heard his Harley tear around the block past the loading door by my desk, throttling high to match his ire. Zooooom!

Later, I plan to go into my boss' office to air my grievances over the fact that I'm not being afforded nearly enough time to secretly write pulp scifi at my desk all day.

What a world, what a world...

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The Branding Iron | 8 comments (8 topical, 0 hidden)
I also had to work this week. by Clipper Ship (4.00 / 2) #1 Thu Sep 11, 2008 at 07:58:22 AM EST
2 of the past 4 days have been spent working. How am I going to pass classes, write a novel and read articles with all this work to do? My bosses are definitely overbearing fi they expect me to always do work while at the office.


Destroy All Planets

...the 'dignity' of their brand... by greyrat (4.00 / 4) #2 Thu Sep 11, 2008 at 08:20:22 AM EST
When Deutsche Financial took over a mid-western American financial company, they had a raft of high-quality, embroidered-logo baseball caps made up and given to the American employees. The caps had a small Deutsche logo on the side. And on the front? In a big, soft, font:


Yerpeans -- some Yerpeans get it.

Doy-cha by Bridget J (2.00 / 0) #7 Sat Sep 13, 2008 at 04:39:02 AM EST
 I want one of these so, so badly.

[ Parent ]
ORLY? How badly? by greyrat (4.00 / 1) #8 Sat Sep 13, 2008 at 05:28:28 AM EST
I used to have two. This is the one I have left:
It also has "Deutsche Financial Services" embroidered in an arc on the back.

[ Parent ]
*hug* by duxup (4.00 / 2) #3 Thu Sep 11, 2008 at 08:49:09 AM EST
I have to work the night shift while breaking in a new guy this weekend, even so I'll probably spend some time playing video games, but I'll be darned tired while doing it... ok that's not so bad.

I don't get how Marketing gets involved in these things.  I know the answer is more stupidity, sort of how HR is busy trying to sell me on some stupid classes that they will charge my department an insane amount of money to attend.     As if that somehow makes the company money.  Still I'm flabbergasted considering marketing departments general lack of qualifications to do... anything.  At least the HR people possibly manage benefits or something.  Marketing? 

As just an area of study / practice marketing seems to be insanely over complicated and over thought (well when they're not just introducing their own aesthetic preferences that seems to include no thought).   I get the idea of maybe not having a dog taking a dump on your company logo if you're selling hamburgers, but "too blue collar"?   I'd be more offended if they tried to represent my work day and got it wrong.  Represent me as something totally different for fun, I don't care, and hell if I'm going to get any of that from music or logo construction.

There was a video game called Facebreakers coming out and some of the early news sounded kind of fun.  Over the top boxing, cartoon graphics, just fun.   Then I start seeing these announcements about how the same company who is making the game has a music label and hey one of their bands will be featured, oh and they have concerts where they'll interrupt the concert to play the game, and "viral" videos and the game shows up....  Now TV ads with Snoop Dogg (they're really on top of the pop culture trends).  It seems the project is entirely driven by some marketing department.  Somewhere deep inside I just know all this crap is drawing resources from the product that is all but guaranteed to be some shallow crap.

words in Hindi that Babelfish refused to translate by wiredog (4.00 / 3) #4 Thu Sep 11, 2008 at 08:52:16 AM EST
The customer is gonna discover a third arm growing out of his head.  Or something like that. 

Earth First!
(We can strip mine the rest later.)

I've been lucky by ucblockhead (4.00 / 1) #5 Thu Sep 11, 2008 at 08:53:35 AM EST
I spent yesterday watching various corporate presentations. Fortunately, there's a bit of knowledge about presentation in house, particularly in the division of $BigJapaneseCorp with "Pictures" in its name.

When I worked for Williams-Sonoma, I was always impressed how good they were at presentation. They were smart enough to have multiple corporate colors, and anal enough that in one instance, they forced a contractor to relay a colored concrete floor because it was just a couple values to beige. For one of their big conferences, they gave all the employees programs that were (intentionally) the spitting image of Mao's little red book. That's a company not afraid to take some chances in presentation.
[ucblockhead is] useless and subhuman

I used to sit near marketing at my first company by Scrymarch (2.00 / 0) #6 Fri Sep 12, 2008 at 11:13:20 AM EST
They were a set of very smart, together men and (mostly) women, a lot of them new grads. They almost all wanted to get out of marketing though (and most of them are out now).

The Political Science Department of the University of Woolloomooloo

The Branding Iron | 8 comments (8 topical, 0 hidden)