oxfam unwrapped

I recently directed a few commercials for Oxfam Unwrapped. Oxfam’s concept was to have people give Christmas “gifts” of goats, chickens, etc – so your recipient gets a funny message that they’ve received a goat, and someone in Africa gets an actual goat to help feed their families and support their community (or for the finishing touches on their beet salads – not sure which).

my christmas shopping list

Anna Torv from the show Fringe was one of the actresses who contributed their time and talents. They say in Hollywood you should never work with kids or animals – and aren’t goats kinda both? Thanks folks, I’m here all week. Anyways, Anna makes it all look effortless – but let me warn you, she’s a trained professional and you shouldn’t try this at home (unless you have access to goats at home, in which case I don’t even wanna know what you’re doing).

It’s a great concept for a charity. I have to say that I dislike charities that solely try to bombard you with reminders of terrible things going on in the world. Anyone who reads a newspaper or follows current events is aware of the horrific situations in Darfur, North Korea, the Congo, Somalia, etc. Give me information and I’m interested, make me feel involved and I’m inspired – but guilt me and I just feel manipulated.

People choose their own battles, and I think it’s unfair to fundraise with guilt. Bill Gates isn’t focused on stopping animal cruelty, but he’s trying to stop the millions who die because of lack of access to clean water. Sam Simon isn’t focused on water borne disease, but he is a huge supporter of many animal charities. They shouldn’t feel guilty for what they’re not doing – they should feel fulfilled that they are doing something.

Whether we have $16 to spend or $16 billion, it’s never enough – so get involved with what inspires you and feel good about it – don’t feel guilty that you can’t do more.

I love that Oxfam is trying to do something creative that genuinely appeals to people. We all put our time and sense of humor into a project that hopefully makes fundraising more enjoyable for everyone. I hope it inspires people to donate rather than guilts them into it.

That said, I’m really trying to improve my blog. If you read this whole post and benefited from it – how could you live with yourself if you didn’t send me money? I mean, you’re basically stealing. I do have beet salads to buy, after all.


brand awareness

Or – how to promote your competitor’s product.

Recently Panasonic UK released a behind-the-scenes video from the new Lumix G2 commercial. The tagline for their video is Everything Matters. By this, I assume they are referring to everything except for the fact that they shot it on a Canon 5D MkII and included footage on YouTube clearly showing multiple Canons (even their distinctive white L lenses) in the BTS video.

This seems like a bizarre error. I have trouble even imagining how it occurred. They decided to shoot a Panasonic ad on Canons, then decided to shoot behind-the-scenes video showing them doing this, then edited and color corrected that BTS video, then compressed it for the web, and finally someone at Panasonic UK uploaded it to their YouTube account.

Personally, I’m relatively brand agnostic. I love products and companies – but my love is conditional. If I like a company, it’s because they treat me well (mmm…In N Out). If I like a product, it’s because it works well for my needs (Predator drones). If I like a lot of products, then I probably like the company (which actually applies to both Canon and Panasonic for me).

Now, let’s ignore for a moment all the various brand identity and marketing rules they’re breaking, and instead focus on why this is technically infuriating.

Why in the world would a company like Panasonic hire a director or DP who then decides to use Canon? Now, if Panavision hired me to shoot a still photo of David Fincher sitting behind a Panavision Platinum – I might well use a Canon, because there is no technically appropriate Panavision product. Yet this Panasonic commercial was shot with a camera that was probably *not* even the best choice. As much as I love the 5D MkII, this commercial would be perfect for the GH1, which is made by…Panasonic. It shoots at 60fps (great for action sequences) and is much smaller than the 5D MkII or even the 7D (great for actor rigs).

I’m not saying the Canon was the “wrong” camera. I shoot Canon all the time. But I also shoot Phase One and even Panasonic. I use the right tool for the job, but in this case I could easily shoot this commercial with the Canon 7D or the Panasonic GH1 (actually wouldn’t choose the 5D MkII because its slower frame rates is less flexible for action). When it’s a coin flip on which camera to use, it’s just a strange behavior that they chose their competitor’s product.

While I personally really like the Panasonic Lumix G series, Olympus certainly has their marketing more organized.

Now when we add the rules of branding and marketing into the mix, this “Panasonic” behind-the-scenes video transforms from really annoying to an error of mind boggling proportions. If you work for Pepsi, they don’t even want you to travel on an airline that serves Coca-Cola products. And vice versa. It sounds silly at first, but these are real concerns with millions or billions at stake. Besides not wanting to give any money or support to your competition, it also avoids the possibility of a photo of the Head of Marketing for Coca Cola sitting next to his (presumably First Class) Pepsi drinking seatmate.

Panasonic President Fumio Ohtsubo recently spent about 30 billion yen to consolidate Matsushita and National all under the Panasonic brand name. I imagine he would not be happy to know that their money is being spent to promote a competitor.

Knowing that’s the landscape, how could this have happened? Having spent a significant amount of time in Japan, I have trouble imagining this mistake would ever happen there. They take company loyalty (not just branding) extremely seriously. Does Panasonic’s Japanese right hand (カメラの手?) not know what its UK left hand is doing? Possibly they are having difficulty bridging the cultural divide.

After having worked for many companies that have Japanese offices and Western offices, I can easily imagine Panasonic UK and Panasonic Japan having serious communication problems. I am often amazed at the extent of the cultural gap and how little is done to bridge it. 残念ですね。I have even found myself as the liaison between employees in Japan and the US…both theoretically working for the same company.

When Panasonic Japan made a video about their ToughBook series of laptops, they clearly display that the video was made with a Panasonic Lumix camera – and it looks great.

These aren’t even the same departments (computers and cameras), yet they clearly understand brand consistency. In the UK, apparently the camera department isn’t even aware of the importance of internal brand consistency.

In any event, the Panasonic Lumix series and the Canon DSLR series are both great, but Canon’s advertising is far better organized. I really hope Panasonic uses this as a wake up call and gets their brand strategy together. That way we won’t have to see their engineering outpace their marketing.



Can a television commercial teach you character?

I recently was describing this commercial to a friend on the telephone as one of my all-time favorite commercials. Growing up, I had never been exposed to the concept that failure is an inevitable and important ingredient of success…and I didn’t expect my first exposure to come in the form of a Nike commercial.

However, this is a lesson you can easily miss if you don’t participate in organized sports. In math, nobody expects you to get a certain percentage of the problems wrong. In English, no one expects you to incorrectly define a certain percentage of vocabulary. In academia, no one expects you to do anything wrong.

The problem is that life doesn’t work like math class. In class, you read the chapter, learn the lesson, do the practice tests, and then hopefully get 100% on your test. In basketball, you train for years, do drills until you hurt for days, play thousands of hours – and then you’re amazing if you can shoot 50% from the field.

I’m certainly not saying failure is more acceptable in sports. On the contrary, people usually care more about winning in basketball than they do in math class.  I think it has more to do with preparation and the fear of failure. In sports, you risk failure by even being in the game. Yet in academia, you can study hard and prepare well and never come close to failing in your entire academic career. This is great for your transcript, but terrible for later in life…when you are confronted by risks that might reasonably end in failure. Should you start that new business? Well, it might fail. Again. Yet no one suggests you don’t try to hit the game winning shot because you have a 50% chance of failure and you missed once before.

These experiences explain why many successful people have a background in sports – or in skilled games of chance, which teach many of the same lessons.

So next time you take on a project or a career that has a real chance of failure, or embark on a path that has led you astray before…just remember that success and failure are intertwined and it’s hard to capture one consistently without experiencing your fair share of the other.