tools of the trade and other conundrums

hey, i have one of those!!

Does having professional equipment make you a professional? If you are a professional (ie. making a living from your profession), what kind of threat does an influx of new technologies and talent have on the existing order? And what pitfalls exist in those chaotic periods of influx?

With the introduction of cameras like the Canon 5D Mk 3 or the Nikon D800, professional level cameras have reached “affordable” levels. It may still be $3k to pick up a bare bones version, but that’s a far cry from spending $60k on an IQ180 digital back.

Although affordability is generally good, some professional photographers don’t like the hobbyist photographer proclaiming, “Hey, that’s what I shoot with, too.” It rarely happens when you’re using a $60k camera. It pro’ly doesn’t happen to neurosurgeons much, either – “Hey, that’s the same Stryker Saw I have at home!”

While photographers may complain that now everyone who has a 5D3 or D800 thinks they’re a professional photographer, writers have always had to deal with this challenge. Writing doesn’t have a big “cost barrier” to entry, so I’m sure people were like, “Hey Shakespeare – look at this new quill I bought and all this ink. I bet I have enough ink for like 100 sonnets here!”

The democratization of media is a modern innovation (although it pro’ly started with the printing press), but it does have its downsides. Before ePublishing, you had to convince a real publisher that your book was worthy of being printed and distributed (and maybe promoted if you were lucky). Many worthwhile books got passed over, and people without the right connections might have been overlooked. But that barrier also served to maintain a certain quality level.

When I was a kid, I had to hunt through the shelves at my local bookstores to try to find book 3 of a series where I’d already read books 1,2 and 4. Now I can just blaze through them in order on my Kindle. However, when I’m looking for a new book on Amazon, there are tons of eBooks that are, to use the technical term for it, atrocious. So I find myself doing the electronic equivalent of hunting through bookshelves – but instead of looking for specific authors, I’m trying to find the diamonds in the increasingly rough landscape. Sites like GoodReads have helped to simplify the process a bit, but it’s still quite challenging.

Authors who are already established or have some cultural prominence are, counterintuitively, the ones who benefit most from this democratization. They are no longer at the mercy of big publishers, bookstores, etc. The people who haven’t breached those old world barriers are usually the ones that are least able to benefit. Before, you might have to convince one publisher or agent that your book was worthwhile. Now, you have to convince 100,000 readers to buy that book – you have to be author and marketer. Promotion is not as simple as “good worth of mouth” – if it were, studios wouldn’t spend $40 million promoting movies that will be accessible at every multiplex in the country anyways. (Although that skips part of the formula – those multiplexes wouldn’t have that many showings if the studio hadn’t guaranteed a big media buy).

If you are author and marketer, then you may start to do what publishers and studios and other corporations do – create your own fake word of mouth. Look at the case of John Locke and others, who created hundreds of fake Amazon reviews in order to promote their own work. Brilliant? Maybe not. Effective? Definitely. Yet if you are just a “good writer”, you are now competing not only against other good writers, but people who may be much better marketers, advertisers, fake promoters, etc. The authenticity of what you’re viewing is always to be questioned – whether it’s on Amazon, Instagram or the 6pm news. Everyone is evolving with the shifts in culture and technology, and not all that evolution is beneficial.

In any event, like most things that “simplify” our life, these innovations come with their own new complexities. Email and cell phones were invented as devices of convenience, efficiency and time-saving. Yet how much of our day is spent on these “time-saving” innovations? I’m not sure, but I’m going to check my new time-boxing app to figure out how much time I spend on email and cell phones, then I’ll put it into Google Docs and make a pie chart, then with all the time I’ve saved, I’ll look at some webcams of beaches.


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.