Monday, August 20, 2012

Social Media, the Good: Team Coco

Conan O’Brien, of course, was one of the casualties of what is now known as The Tonight Show Conflict. In 2004, NBC officially declared that O’Brien, the host of Late Night with Conan O’Brien, would replace Jay Leno as host of The Tonight Show in 2009. By 2008, however, reports emerged that Leno was still doing well in the ratings and was rethinking leaving the show.

In response, NBC announced that Leno would get an earlier timeslot for a new The Jay Leno Show, to precede O’Brien and The Tonight Show. About a year later, NBC decided to move Leno’s show to a later time, which would push Conan, now on The Tonight Show, back into a late-night position. After the dust settled, a disgusted O’Brien ended up signing a deal instead to leave the network.

As is common in such instances, O’Brien was contractually barred from any Internet, television, or radio appearances for almost a year, and he was prohibited from making any negative comments about the situation, NBC, or Leno during this period. In a move to prevent what could have been a disastrous blow to his fan base and career, O’Brien and his team ended up creating a live comedy stage show, The Legally Prohibited from Being Funny on Television Tour. And just how did O’Brien get out the word to his legion of fans? O’Brien turned to Twitter, using just a tweet to announce his 30-city live tour – many locations sold out within hours of the tweet, and additional shows had to be added to meet demand. (For more background on the tour, I suggest watching the documentary which followed the tour, entitled Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop.)

O’Brien announcing his new TBS show via Twitter
Shortly before his tour began, O’Brien took to Twitter again, this time to announce that he had signed a deal with TBS for a new late-night show, to begin once his obligations to NBC were complete. In discussing the decision to embrace the power of social media, O’Brien has since noted that even having a web page would have been a big deal at NBC at that time. “Clearly,” he said, “there was a little bit of a condescending attitude about the web for a long time: ‘It’s cute. The media like to talk about it, but it’s of no real consequences.’ Clearly, that’s changed.” Using Twitter combined with a live tour, O’Brien was able to stay relevant with his fans, during a time when he was under a contractual blackout. In the days before social media, such a blackout, as intended, could be a death knell to a career.

In the time since, the host of TBS’ Conan has been liked by millions on Facebook; has a presence on Tumblr, Flickr and other hot social media spots; has millions of followers on Twitter; and has millions of views on YouTube (although, as we have seen, these numbers can sometimes be questionable). And just how did this new-media strategy develop? O’Brien said it came about after his staff showed O’Brien that he indeed had a grass-roots following. What they realized about these fans was: “They’re very young, very smart, very savvy about technology. They use the Internet, and they’re fans of ours.” O’Brien says, “I was forced to embrace this world and learn how to use it. First thing I found is that it’s all about content....Funny content is funny content anywhere.”

O’Brien evolved in order to embrace his passionate following. Conventional wisdom, according to O’Brien, was that if you give away all your best bits before they have aired, you lose viewers. But O’Brien has since found the opposite to be the case, and that by putting out clips in advance, one can actually build an audience. Tweets and video clips now drive people to the show. And other things have changed as well, making allowances for the various ways in which people now interact with media. As O’Brien says, “The days of ‘I only want people to experience me at 11 on TBS’ are over. The audience is too fragmented, too distracted, and it doesn’t work that way anymore.” O’Brien has also suggested that he would never have changed the way that he did business had he not left NBC, a company entrenched in old thinking. As for now: “It’s not the way I watched television or the way my parents watched,” he added. “It’s a new world.”

Here are the components of the Team Coco social media machine: – features daily blog posts, comments, show tickets, and merchandise.

Flickr, Foursquare, and the Conan Blimp – to promote the show, O’Brien has periodically sent out an orange Conan Blimp to various parts of the country. The blimp is linked to GPS, allowing fans to follow it in real-time on Google Maps. It also features a live cam, has accompanying photos posted on Flickr, and sports a badge on Foursquare.

Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter – O’Brien and his staff pump out regular tweets, often highlighting recent show guest appearances, sometimes just featuring a quip for the day. Music and comedic acts also often send out their own tweets promoting their appearances.

YouTube – besides show clips, O’Brien has used YouTube to make announcements about the show, such as when he announced that old sidekick Andy Richter was coming back for the new TBS show.

Google+ – just this year, O’Brien fielded viewer questions during a live Google+ hangout.

Also see: Social Media, the Bad (and the Good)

With quotes and images from: and

Monday, August 13, 2012

Social Media, the Bad (and the Good)

One cannot be a designer nowadays (or many other things, for that matter) without being cognizant of the importance of social media. It can be a great way to connect with peers, mentors, clients, fans a great way to dig up new leads and build a support base.

There is a flip side, however, to a mentality that prizes sheer numbers of likes and friends and followers. It might be a great ego boost to have followers to the nth degree, but how many of those followers are real, and how many are active? I thought it would be good to explore some of the bad, and some of the good, when it comes to social media.

It was recently reported that both the Obama and the Romney campaigns may have bought a good portion of their Twitter followers, potentially about 30-40% each. Research scientist Jason Ding of Barracuda Labs noticed that Romney’s followers had increased by 17% during a single weekend in July, only to then see 10% of those accounts later suspended within weeks, and about a fourth of the accounts had never sent out a single tweet themselves. Now, this is not a partisan thing – Romney’s campaign is not the only one showing potentially fake followers, as Obamas does as well. And this is not just happening within the world of politics.

In fact, almost 50% of Twitter followers of companies with active profiles might be fake, according to a study by Marco Camisani Calzolari, a corporate communication and digital languages professor in Milan. Using software tools, one can now analyze accounts for activity indicative of a real, active person. Even performers like Lady Gaga are not immune to having apparently fake followers. And being that some people, such as Kim Kardashian, Snoop Dogg, and Charlie Sheen, are paid thousands for a tweeta tweet that is supposedly going out to millions of followers who will hopefully retweet and act on the tweetit is no small issue.

One cannot just blame Obama’s campaign, or Lady Gaga. Companies and celebrities and the like often delegate their public relations activities, including social media activities, to third parties. And sometimes these third parties choose to take shortcuts. But of course, it is ultimately not useful for companies to be sending out their messages to tons of fake followers who produce no results.

To be honest, however, the only thing really shocking about any of this is that people seem surprised at all. If things are made into purely a numbers game, someone is going to game the system. And even I have been blindly solicited by people offering to sell me followers – me, just a simple Twitter user. And in fact, awareness of the ability to buy followers has been around for at least a few years. Although it may seem that current technology and social media move at breakneck speeds, awareness still seems to take a while to trickle down.

All is not so bleak, though, when it comes to making use of social media. It can be a powerful and effective tool when skillfully wielded.

Coming up: Social Media, the Good: Team Coco

Friday, July 27, 2012

2012 London Olympics: What's Going On with That Logo?

Today is the opening of the 2012 Summer Olympics thus, the start of being interested in swimming for two weeks and wishing we all had the bodies of pro volleyball players.

So, it only seems fitting to ruminate on related matters, such as: what’s going on with that Olympic logo?

Technically, it is known as an Olympic emblem. Each Olympic Games has its own version, a design combining the Olympic rings with other distinctive elements, generally reflecting the host country and the season. These emblems are created and proposed by the Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games or by the National Committee of the host country, and the International Olympic Committee gets final approval on the design.

Which brings us to a look at this year’s version for the 2012 London Games:
Motto: Inspire a generation.

Feeling underwhelmed, maybe even hostile? You are not alone. In fact, the almost universally-detested emblem may also be the most controversial one in the 116-year history of the Olympic Games.

From puzzle pieces to Lisa Simpson committing an unmentionable act, the word “Zion,” or an abstract depiction of “dad dancing,” the emblem has attracted all sorts of scorn, ridicule, and speculation.

Developed by the branding firm Wolff Olins for some £400,000 and unveiled in 2007, the design is based on the numbers “2012” and uses the custom “2012 Headline” typeface meant to create awareness, impact, and memorability. It is the first emblem in Olympic history to be able to use a variety of colors. And while the standard colors include green, magenta and blue, the logo has also been rendered in a variety of other colors and patterns, including the Union Flag. Sponsors, such as Lloyds TSB and Adidas, have also incorporated their company colors when using the 2012 Olympic emblem.
Ah, capitalism...wait, this isn't America?

To be fair, in support of the emblem, it has been claimed that the transformation of the 2012 number forms helps create a modern, meaningful, universal, and youthful effect. Some see it as an appeal to today’s Internet generation. As the chairman of London’s 2012 organizing committee said, 
“It is an invitation to take part and be involved.” It plays up Britain’s quirkiness and mild eccentricity, instead of opting for a sleek, corporate logo and in lieu of using clich├ęd national references. It is part of a sketched-in, impromptu sort of Olympic brand identity that reflects the eclectic, jumbled, vibrant, and abstract energy of London as a city. Nick Couch, managing director at the London creative consultancy Figtree, describes the 2012 Olympic identity as “bright, energetic and slightly dysfunctional….It reflects London.”

And then there are the detractors. Much of the original criticism of the logo came down to two issues – the first being that Wolff Olins has been unable to fully discuss its design rationale, due to media restrictions. The second criticism was over the real purpose of the identity – not as a standalone logo, but as a brand. It was difficult to imagine, in 2007, how such a thing might work.

Pretty drab in black and white, no?
And as London-born writer Feargus O’Sullivan opined: “London 2012’s visual designers have created an impression of an Olympics afraid to look too sleek or clever.” “Now London will host an Olympic torch that appears to run on Parmesan, while its children will be spooked by bits of a broken stadium that have sprouted monstrous eyes and slunk off to haunt the nation’s Happy Meals. At least these missed opportunities all happened in a country that enjoys laughing at its own failures.”

If nothing else, at least it has spurred conversation, and the world’s eyes would be on the Games no matter the emblem used. What do you think about the 2012 London Olympics emblem?


For more of a look at the current, past, and even future Olympic emblems:

Every Olympic Logo in History

A History of Olympic Logos: From London 2012 to London 1948 

A History of Olympic Logos: 1896 – 2008 and Beyond

2012 Summer Olympics Logo: How Does It Stack Up to Past Olympics?

Design and Branding Trends: Olympic Games

Olympics Logo Evolution Over the Years 1924 – 2016

39 Olympic Logos From 1924 to 2012

Monday, July 23, 2012

On Tongues and Lips

Even though designer Cefalu had already been working with a version of the Tongue and Lips logo, the Sticky Fingers album, released in March of 1971, actually features a second version of the logo.

The logo this time was designed by renowned British graphic designer John Pasche, then a student the Royal College of Art in London. Some claim that Pasche was actually commissioned in 1969 by Jagger, looking for images for the band. Pasche later said, “The design concept for the tongue was to represent the band’s anti-authoritarian attitude, Mick’s mouth and the obvious sexual connotations.” “I designed it in such a way that it was easily reproduced and in a style I thought could stand the test of time.” But Cefalu counters with the details: “The logo that I did the finish on and that was used on all the merchandising was done by me well before the end of February of 1971. That one was finished black line art and I used matched PMS185 Red and White call outs on it.” Pasche, however, is often credited as being the creator of the now famous logo.

Pasche, who ended up doing graphics work for the Stones from 1970 to 1974, also said, “Face to face with him [Jagger], the first thing you were aware of was the size of his lips and his mouth.” In many versions of the tale, the logo was also said to be influenced by depictions of the fearsome Hindu goddess Kali, usually shown with an open mouth and pointed tongue. Granted, there could be a similarity. Cefalu, however, tells a different story about its inception, claiming that his employer Craig Baum was looking over another album cover design of Cefalu’s, which featured a mouth with a tongue hanging out of it. Baum then mentioned to Cefalu that they had been working, without success, on a logo for the Stones. Inspiration struck, and Baum, who had a meeting that afternoon with the manager of the Stones, asked Cefalu, “can you go upstairs to the art department and take the lips that you did on this label, add a tongue outside and over the bottom lip like this, and finish it in less than an hour?” Cefalu claims that it took him 40 minutes to do a felt marker sketch, to which he added teeth to balance the look.

The Shepard Fairey version
And the logo saga does not end there. The logo was unique, being that it was just the image and had never actually said “The Rolling Stones.” For decades, the band felt that the mouth itself was potent enough. And indeed, the logo has remained as one of the most widely recognized logos ever created. Fast forward to June 2012, though, and another version is rolled out, this time after an overhaul by the popular designer and artist Shepard Fairey. To commemorate their 50th anniversary, the Rolling Stones asked Fairey to update the classic Tongue and Lips. Fairey was “overwhelmed” by the request, commenting that “Mick said he was open to any of my ideas.” Well, perhaps the Tongue and Lips are just too iconic, or perhaps it was just a moment of good judgement, because the biggest change was adding typography around the mouth design, with a few minor tweaks to the mouth itself.

In 2003, VH1 named Sticky Fingers the “No. 1 Greatest Album Cover” of all time, while in August 2008, the Tongue and Lips design (Pasches version) was voted the greatest band logo of all time in an online poll. And although his contributions seem to be often overlooked, maybe one need not feel too bad for Cefalu. In the years since, Cefalu has received much recognition, including Grammy nominations and Music Hall of Fame Awards. As of 2011, Cefalu had 212 total album covers to his credit. He is the owner and creative director of HornBook Inc., the Internet’s first virtual agency, and he serves as the creative director for four Fortune 100 companies. And as an interesting side note, Cefalu has assembled what is perhaps the largest privately-owned collection of original album cover art and music-related illustration in the world.

What do you think of the credit going to Pasche over Cefalu? And how do you feel about the Fairey version of Tongue and Lips? Do you think it is an improvement over Pasches or Cefalus versions?  

Also see: Sticky Fingers and Tongues and Lips - Oh, the Drama

With quotes and images from: and

Monday, July 16, 2012

Sticky Fingers and Tongues and Lips – Oh, the Drama

First off, this is not one of those kinds of sites. So, hmmm, sticky fingers, what is that about? A how-to on petty theft? And tongues and lips...a topic from a trade magazine for mannequin manufacturers? (Does such a thing even exist?) Ha, no, for those perhaps too young to know, Sticky Fingers is an album, and Tongue and Lip Design is a logo – and both belong to the famous Rolling Stones.

The Rolling Stones, one of the most successful and well-known rock ‘n’ roll bands ever, was founded in 1962. Within a handful of years, the band had already hit #1 in the UK and was making waves across the pond. In 1970, once other contracts had ended, the band was free to form their own record company, Rolling Stones Records. Sticky Fingers, which happened to chart #1 in both the UK and the US, became the band’s first album release on their own label. It contains some of their best-known hits, including Wild Horses.

Sticky Fingers, notably, featured an elaborate cover design by none other than the famed Andy Warhol. Playing with the suggestive title, the cover features a close shot of a jeans-clad male crotch. The original vinyl release also sported a functioning zipper, as well as a mock belt buckle, which opened to reveal cotton briefs, which themselves were faux stamped with Warhol’s name. Fans assumed the cover model was Mick Jagger, although it has since been claimed that Warhol had several different men photographed (none of whom were Jagger), and it was never revealed which was the actual shot used.

As if all of this weren’t notable enough, Sticky Fingers also features the first use of the Tongue and Lip logo, originally designed by the accomplished Ernie Cefalu, who at the time was working with Craig Braun, Inc. in New York. Baum worked out a deal with the Stones, where the band got the logo for free, while Baum got the exclusive merchandising rights for one year. And so, Cefalu worked on shirts, scarves, hats, patches, and such for the Stones, using this same logo.

But, oh, there is drama in this story...

Coming up: On Tongues and Lips

With images from: