Emojis: Linguistic evolution? Or stupid, bastardised Internet glitter?

Every generation bastardizes the language. It’s happened since forever. So really it should come as no surprise that the emerging rebellious youth, armed to the teeth with unlimited data caps and early-onset thumb arthritis, are helping to steer the vernacular into wondrously new, if head-scratchingly confounding, places with ‘emojis’ (winking smiley face).

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The ‘Call an ambulance I’m having a stroke’ emoji.

The evolution of language is a natural, beautiful thing. It helps shape a generation’s identity and date stamps the zeitgeist, and hopefully, as a result, we progress as a society. Cultivating new ways to communicate helps us form bonds with our peers and gives the ‘cool kids’ a sort of shorthand to help them decipher who’s in and who’s out. But above all, it’s supposed to make communication easier.

Yet, I can’t see ‘emojis’ helping ‘us’ achieve any of these things.

woman emoji

I don’t know either TBH.

They distract, confuse, obfuscate, but most mischievously of all, potentially purport to dumb us down. Try finding the ‘emoji’ equivalent of distract, confuse and obfuscate, for instance. “Um, ok, well I’ve got a woman shrugging her shoulders…will that do?” No.

‘Emojis’ are the linguistic equivalent of glitter: nice in theory and can clearly serve a purpose, but once unleashed now inhabits every crevice of our existence and is seemingly impossible to get rid of. I can’t seem to shake this nagging feeling that they’re some big, dumb ‘so bad it’s good’ joke that people began using ironically. Only it’s been going on for so long now that everyone seems to have forgotten the punch line, walked the chicken back across the road and are now happily drinking in a bar with a horse, a tiny man with a piano, and various men of cloth.

maxresdefaultDon’t get me wrong; ‘emojis’ have their place as hieroglyphic hashtags to be used after the main event to highlight your point (ok signing hand) or provide a witty rejoinder (poo with eyes (hilarious)). However, plonk them in the middle of a sentence in place of an actual word and leave the reader to decipher your message at your own peril.

So are ‘emojis’ here to stay, or will they be banished to the cultural wilderness like Hammer Pants, tamagotchis and wine cooler?

I guess only (clock face) will (person whispering into their hand).

In defense of puns

Ah, puns. The copywriter’s equivalent of the dad joke. Harmless, chuckleworthy, eye-rollingly good plays on words that make us expel air out of our noses at a rate faster than normal for at least one breath.

I will admit I love a good pun and even kind of like a ‘bad’ pun. Good on them for having a go, I’ll think to myself. See, when you’re coming up with headlines for things, you try to find ways to highlight the stuff you’ve been told to highlight. You need to make a connection between the product and the potential consumer. Why not draw on common ground with a few well-placed words that have a smile-inducing double meaning?

But I’m not in the majority here. Some people hate puns, or deride them as ‘cheap’ and ‘easy’. They say ‘there’s no such thing as a good pun’ and spend inordinate amounts of time attempting to create a gem before reverting to a tried and true “more than just a…”, “we’re for…” or new favourite “welcome to…”.

As such, advertisers of a certain chip colour have been reticent to deploy puns in their mass-market communications. This week, a few would argue we’ve all been witness to front row seats as to why.

Woolworth’s ‘Fresh in our memories’ campaign drew a strong reaction, and deservedly so. The internet responded as the internet does and amongst the swathes of digital disbelief and virtual hand-wringing someone somewhere pointed out that one of the worst things about this misguided use of the word ‘fresh’ was that is was a pun.

Great, I thought. Another thousand lashes for the fly-ridden dead horse of pun hate. But as a staunch defender of the play-on-word, I feel a need to intervene.

‘Fresh in our memories’ was not a pun. I appreciate that this makes as much sense as saying water is not a liquid, but lets look at the actual facts. Yes, it has a double meaning, but only because of the association the Woolworths brand has with the word ‘fresh’. If it was a true pun, the fresh would refer to the people in our memories being either crisp like a spritzed iceberg lettuce or somehow dressed like the Price of Bel Air. It’s also neither smile-inducing nor giggle-worthy in any way. And the only air that would be expelled from one’s nostrils upon reading it for the first time would be from indignant anger, not some beige variety of pleasure.

Not a true play on words. Not funny. No nostril air.

Three strikes you’re out = Not a pun.

The internet will move on by the end of the week. But brands will be more cautious as a result. Knuckles will be rapped and contracts will be reviewed. And standing in the line-up with the guilty parties will be the pun. A case of mistaken identity in the wrong place at the wrong time. Unfairly judged for a crime it did not commit and I for one feel sorry for them. So now it’s not so much that every pun is a bad pun, they’re all just poor puns.

Sorry. I couldn’t help it.

Day 2 of a design forum through the eyes of a writer ~ agIdeas 2013

Day 2 begins at 5:45, which is inhuman. Soon enough I’m off the train, caffeinated and hob-nobbing at the Advantage Business Breakfast. Thankfully, bacon and egg rolls are in abundance. Normal service resumes.

Dan Formosa’s opening talk was first class. He was engaging, insightful, took us on a journey and made an impression on everyone. He reset the bar for the remainder of the speakers for the rest of the conference. So many pearls of wisdom: don’t ask ‘what’, ask ‘why’, ‘People don’t buy your product, a person buys your product’. So many workable answers to our problems: ‘It’s personal relationships, treat them like you’re dating.’ You just wanted to wrap him up, stick him under your arm and run away so no one else can benefit from his genius but you.

At first, I couldn’t place John Barratt’s accent and it distracted me. Then I realised it was trans-Atlantic Novacastrian and slapped my forehead for not picking it sooner. John works at Teague. A massive industrial design company that only has about 20% industrial designers on staff. Makes sense. Well, everything else he said did. No matter how big your project, get a small, core team to run it. And he knows big projects. Like, $200,000,000,000.00 worth of big. He also told us designers need to get tangible early in the process. Handy.

Both mornings before the ‘big show’ we’ve been treated to the musical styling of an up and coming band (Rebirth/Red Leader). I neglected to mention this yesterday. Today’s group, made me feel like I was at a Spandau Ballet concert. But in a good way.

Notre premiere presenteur, Alain Le Quernec, didn’t suffer from English not being his first language. In fact, he used it as weapon. I don’t know how you say ‘brevity is wit’ in French, but I’m pretty sure he does. He proudly proclaimed not to be ‘a reference or an example’, then proceeded to show us time and time again exactly the opposite. He had us eating his political, cultural, social communication out of the palm of his hand until we were full.

Second up was a man I’d been looking forward to hearing from ever since the speaker announcements were made so I’m probably going to be unduly hard on him for missing the brief. David Nobay from Droga5. ‘Nobby’ is one of advertising’s better-known characters, and for good reason. His work proceeds him, as does his ability to get the best out of those around him. The guy wins awards for breakfast, but I’m not reviewing his work, I’m reviewing his talk. Nobby took it upon himself to give the students in the room a ‘pep-talk’. This included telling them that there were already too many people in the industry and illustrating his points with clips from MadMen. It would have been great if he gave us insights into how we can overcome all the problems he brought up and gave us a better insight into what he looks for in people, but unfortunately he didn’t.

To whoever tweeted about the lack of female representation on the speaker list, Leah Heiss should have put your mind at ease. I’ll take quality over quantity any day. With agIdeas now falling under the Victorian Government’s Design Matters initiative, Leah stood confidently on stage and showed us precisely why. With a range of inspired, functional jewellery designs that administer medicine, monitor arrhythmia, project allergy information and more. Reducing the necessity to lug around cumbersome, embarrassing equipment in the process. Leah told us she’ll work with anyone, micro-biologists, nanothechnologists, designers, and pretty much anyone else who she can learn from or be inspired by. The collective subconscious in the room said “You can work with me” in unison.

After a quick break, the affable Simon Rippingale took us through the process of ‘getting a project off the ground’ while telling the story of how we got his latest animation “A Cautionary Tail” realised. “A Cautionary Tail” was written by his creative partner while holed up in hospital for a year (echoes of @FullSickRapper). Stylewise, it uses live, filmed sets with 3D animated characters. The results, that we saw, were stunning and clearly painstaking to create. Somehow he managed to get it voiced by Barry Otto, David Wenham and Cate Blanchette. Impressive. Inspiring. Informative. Everyone is barracking for it to be a success. Look out for it on ABC later this year.

Ok, so I met Jan Van Shaik (from Minifie Van Shaik Architects) for the first and only time on Monday night. After a few beverages we had a chat. Despite only meeting him once, I will trust him to the ends of the earth and back. I mean, you’ve got to trust a man who loves his mum so much to walk out onto a stage in front of 2,500 people, get them to stand up and sing her (hi Catherine) Happy Birthday. Jan’s talk was a great balance of information, aspiration and detail. The only thing that could have improved it was if he’d successfully organised a Kickstarter project to fund a group purchase of that art deco former hospital in Mildura. Maybe there’s still time…. I dare you.

Reiko Sudo, founder of Nuno Corporation and Nuno Works is a worldwide authority in textiles. The time and effort that goes into her work, is reflected in the exquisite results. I couldn’t even begin to describe it. Simply go to nuno.com and feast your eyes. Despite not being particularly fluent in English, it was easy enough for Reiko to let her work do the talking. Simply breathtaking work.

After lunch, Ken Cato announced the winners of NewStar. Again, the ladies shone out (apologies for not getting names: I think there was a Grace? and someone from New Zealand) Anyway, congrats!

Then Kane Hibberd filled the breech after the unfortunate passing of the scheduled speaker’s mother (condolences to Mr Mott and family). Kane is a rock photographer who likes taking photos of guys covered in ‘shiz’. His talk was a refreshingly candid study in believing in yourself, following your dreams no matter how shit people say you are to your face. He shoots promo shots for bands in unique ways. It made for a ripping yarn accompanied by some very interesting visuals.

Chris Khalil came out next to take us on a half journey/half lecture on the world of User Experience. Like Kirsty Lindsay yesterday, Chris told us that if people don’t notice what he does, he’s doing a great job. It must be a bugger for his boss to give him performance reviews. Still, it was a good peek behind the curtain as to why news sites lay things out the way they do.

Ian Anderson followed Chris. You could see a good percentage of the audience sit a little further towards the edge of their seats. Despite still having tickets to sell for his ‘Up And Over Down Under’ Workshop this weekend, he was definitely not on a charm offensive to win over those umming and ahing over going along. Ian grumbled, grizzled and swore through his set. He’s no arse-licker is Ian. There’s no such thing as a good, rich designer too. Maybe it’s his thing? Maybe the fact that he earned the Twitter hashtag #CheerUpIan during his talk will please him. His PR shot (a close up him casually giving a two fingered salute) would suggest as much. Not knowing him from a bar of soap beforehand, I saw him as someone I’d probably love to have a beer with, but wouldn’t cross the road to be inspired by. Still trying to figure out if his parting slide “Don’t be a cunt all your life” was ironic or not.

Taiwan’s Pey Chwen Lin has created a really interesting hologram based installation piece known as Eve Clone. She took us through the process of bringing the concept to life – which was kind of interesting. Then she went deep. She started talking about the planet and how we’re stuffing it up (which I’m totally cool with). And this all led into what Eve Clone was all about. I was kind of expecting a half-baked concoction that was tenuous at best. What we got was so good it was scary. From memory, Eve (the first woman) Clone (technology) represents the lust men have for technology, and their desire to advance it, be with it, and use it to the sake of everything else. Her eyes follow you around the room at all times. The explanation had one absolute effect – All the guys who were live tweeting, quietly put their phones down. Bless.

By this stage of the day, you need something refreshing. The guys from Voice design delivered. So confident were they in their ability to cut the mustard as designers, they started their business fresh out of Uni. Their theory was, you’re not born with it, you learn it, work hard and earn it. From the looks of their work and their shut-up-and-do-it attitude, they’ll do just fine.

Last up was John Barratt. I’ve already sung his praises and he carried on well in the face of a couple of technical difficulties. The big difference between this talk and this morning was it gave us an insight into how his career started and subsequently took off. It’s all about trust.

I trust, we’ll see some more brilliance tomorrow.

Ripping off the brand-aid ~or~ saying goodbye to an old friend.

Shabbadu_logo NEWsmall

I buried an old friend today. Or, if you want me to turn down the melodrama a notch, I signed off a new logo for Shabbadu. While it was an absolutely necessary thing to do,  it was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do.  And here’s why.

1. I liked what we had. 

Call me an old fuddy-duddy, but I didn’t actually hate what we had before. Mainly, because I created it. Sure, I have no design training or skill, but that didn’t stop me when I was all excited about my new business seven years ago. And it took me ages! Well, ok, it took about 20 minutes. Still, I thought it was unique and special, and it did the job.

2. It’s a big investment.

Rebranding costs a lot of money. And it’s not just designers fees, you change one thing you’ve got to change everything. And you’d better change it all at once too or else. Bah! Too hard. Can’t I just get away with my old tracky dacks, I mean logo, for another few years?

3. I’m not the best judge of art direction/design.

I think the saying is ‘pearls before swine’. Despite my years of experience in advertising, I’ve always been a ‘I don’t know much about art but I know what I like’ kind of copywriter. Which is fine when you’ve got a talented, understanding art director by your side, but it’s a different kettle of fish when a) you’ve got to brief the thing in, and b) when you’ve got make a decision at the end of it all.

Basically, I found myself thrust into the role our clients find themselves in more often than not. Suddenly, I had to be making calls on stuff I really didn’t feel qualified to make calls on. At least not with any authority or accuracy. And, I wasn’t entirely convinced we needed to be changing anything in the first place. But I was lucky. I had a team around me that I trusted, and my designer provided enough evidence of industry and support to make me feel comfortable with their suggestions.

Emotions aside, the time was right for a new logo for Shabbadu. The business I began seven years ago is worlds away from the one we are today. One of the key differences is I’m saying we, instead of me. Suddenly, it’s not just about what I like. Breathe, Chris. Breathe.

We’ve all been guilty of being hard on clients for umming, ahhing, and rejecting perfectly good work for seemingly no reason. This experience will hopefully colour these situations for me in the future. I’ll be more understanding and appreciate that while we might just think of it as another chance to move the brand forward into a new and exciting future, for our clients it might represent the nadir of an existential crisis where they begin to question all manner of things about their life, past and present.

Still, onwards and upwards.

logo white and red on grey

Extremes and Modifiers ~ or ~ The writer of this post is a moron, according to some.

Politics is hard to follow. In Australia, it’s hard to follow without repeatedly slapping yourself on the forehead. It’s been noted that it’s regressed into a tribal sporting contest, where fans of each side follow their ‘team’ with blind fervor. But when the personalities and policies fail, and we’ve all tuned out to what the politicians say, there can at the very least be education and entertainment in following ‘how’ they say it.

This doesn’t refer Paul Keating tearing strips of the nearest boxhead, desiccated coconut and painted, perfumed gigolo, but more so the empty rhetoric, pre-prepared party lines and obfuscation we’ve become accustomed to.

The 24-hour news cycle and the need for short, sharp political point scoring at every opportunity has given rise to another linguistic art form: the extreme and modifier.

While the extreme and modifier sounds tough and rugged like a ‘thrust and parry’, it’s more like poking your tongue out at a caged bear. You might feel tough while you’re doing it, but ultimately, it’s pointless.

Let’s look at an easy one to begin with. This is a mild example from Bob Carr, speaking about the James Ashby/Peter Slipper affair. Now, you may recall that in the early days of this scandal, the government was doing its best to discredit James Ashby and tentatively stand behind the man they installed as speaker.

“This Ashby seems more rehearsed than a kabuki actor.”

Key word here is ‘seems’. If he had said ‘This Ashby is more rehearsed than a kabuki actor’ he’d clearly have been sued. After all, he seems to be quite the litigious type.

And to prove that neither side of politics is immune to the old E&M, here’s a no brainer from Tony Abbott. He memorably blessed us with this pearler:

“Work Choices, it’s dead, it’s buried, it’s cremated, now and forever…” (iron clad extreme) “…but obviously, I can’t give an absolute guarantee about every single aspect of workplace relations legislation.” (rolled gold modifier)

Julia Gillard is a master of pretty much all forms of political rhetoric. So it should come as no surprise that she’s a deft hand at the extreme and modifier. But this example is pure genius:

“A complete imbecile, an idiot, a stooge, a sexist pig, a liar, and his sister said he’s a crook and rotten to the core…”

This was her description of former AWU union official Ralph Blewitt. Pretty stern stuff. Plenty of slander going on there. Of course, until she added the all important “…according to people who know him.”

All great examples, yet some are subtler than others. But in the race to make a point when your sound bite needs to fit into a tweet, they’re becoming more and more prevalent in everyday poli-speak.

Keep an ear out for a few old favourites like these; “We could be forgiven for thinking…”, “Is behaving like a….”, and “Another example of the kind of reckless behavior this lot are famous for.”

With a good few months to go before the election, tune in whenever you hear a politician speak and see if you can catch them rolling one out. Question Time is rife with them if you can stomach it.

In the meantime, try slipping a few into everyday conversations. Instead of saying you’re tired, you’re ‘partially exhausted’. You’re not a bit light of funds, you’re ‘borderline insolvent’.

It’s fun for the whole working family, according to some.

Radio needs to be a friend, not prey on the weak.

Here’s a question. Is there still a place for an anti-social medium in the age of social media?

I know it’s tragically unhip of me to say so, but I used to love ‘the’ radio. Growing up, it was usually always on in my house. The advent of the Walkman and headphones made it even more personal and each engagement gave you something special; cool music, news, advice, or information.

But technology did as technology does, and before you could say troglodyte all those things became available elsewhere and the ‘non-rusted on’ listeners were enticed away. So old-faithful began a slow, painful reinvention. Everything got a little bit meaner; first the ratings, then the shareholders, then the budgets, now the presenters.

The tragedy from the weekend should have a lot of people in radioland questioning what they’re doing and where this old train is going. If it hasn’t, then it’s possibly already too late. But while there’s a pulse, those with a vested interest in its ongoing success, and fans alike, should all be hoping they use this as an opportunity to reassess radio’s place in today’s society.

In the UK, the transformation to digital radio was meant to be the dawn of a new era. It wasn’t. It was the same old stuff coming out, only you could hear it better. Plus, one of the product’s biggest strengths became its greatest problem: more channels equaled more choice and loyal listeners sought greener pastures.

Unfortunately, Australia didn’t learn from the UK’s experience. We too introduced a product into a troubled marketplace that further fragmented a diminishing audience.

Instead of preying on the weak with mindless pranks, radio stations might do well to play to their strengths again. Be there, be immediate, be intimate and personal, be a friend. In a fragmented social media landscape, commercial radio has resorted to becoming things that not only don’t suit the medium, but don’t suit the zeitgeist.

Social media is the medium of transparency and honesty. You can’t hide from your critics and you can’t hide from the truth. Broadcasters can embrace this mantra and get back to using radio’s inherent intimacy for good. It’s not about cash giveaways and free tickets to One Direction. It’s about community, knowledge and progress.

Radio can be as live and current as Twitter. Yet more and more stations are opting for prerecorded content to save money. Radio can be as personal as your Facebook timeline. It can involve you in a conversation as well as any online forum can. Yet, more and more presenters are talking at the audience, not to them. The issue isn’t the medium, it’s the way it’s being used.

Surely the opportunity exists to seduce a whole new generation with radio. The generation who grew up with 32bit computer games and more channels on TV than you can poke a stick at. After all, everything old is new again, isn’t it? Radio lets you wear big headphones. Radio lets you play vinyl. You can talk to strangers about topics you control and block them if they’re annoying you. It’s like the new MySpace and Facebook rolled into one. Maybe programmers can’t see the forest for the trees?

Look at the big names in commercial radio and you get the feeling it has become the anti-heroes medium, where bullies can hide behind a golden microphone. Well, right now, radio needs heroes.

Radio can rise again, for no other reason that it is just too good to die. It just needs brains, trust, time and a big injection of passion. Do stations need to rethink the format? Maybe take a lead from what’s working elsewhere. Call it Pint-ear-est, Insta-phonogram, Hearddit, and remember that Hamish and Andy can’t solve everything. The answers won’t be easy to find. But the wider industry needs to start asking questions if it’s not already too late.

* This article first appeared in Mumbrella on 10/12/2012

My friends the idiots.

I have around 375 friends on Facebook. It’s not a huge number, but it’s manageable. Some are best mates I’ve known for years, some are mere acquaintances I’ve met less than a handful of times. And some of them are so stupid I’m beginning to wonder how they function in normal society on a daily basis.

Ok, so maybe that’s a bit harsh. What’s a more appropriate word…um, naïve? No. Reactionary? No, that’s not quite right either.

What the Facebook privacy scam revealed about Facebook users: theyre gullible idiots    Screen Shot 2012 11 28 at 11.41.35 AM 234x275

The Facebook warning spread by the temporarily stupid

But if I was a lawyer representing them in court, I’d plead guilty for them on the grounds of temporary stupidity. “I’m sorry, Your Honour, they received a post detailing a loophole in Facebook’s privacy settings. They simply had to post it to their wall without thinking for the good of the nation. I promise, this act of wanton imbecility is totally out of character.”

15 of my Facebook friends. Fifteen. One-five people, who are of at least above average intelligence re-posted that Facebook Privacy loophole statement to their wall on Monday. There were probably more, but I was saved their blushes by Facebook’s “yeah you probably don’t need to see that” matrix.

Don’t get me wrong. I appreciate the need to be the first on your wall to share a seemingly vital piece of Internet gold. We’re all human and we’ve all got Klout scores to maintain. But have we seriously reached a point in out lives where the need to be ‘first’ with shared information overrides our need to be right?

Now, any one of my friends unlucky enough to find themselves stuck in the vortex of asinine ephemera that I smear onto my Facebook wall will attest to the fact that my standards are pretty low. But they do exist. I rarely get political, I rarely do causes other than to push my own barrow and I rarely, if ever, pass on third party legal statements that promise absolution from potential, imaginary, bad-court-thingies.

Ok, so maybe by now I’ve got a few less friends, but if I’m losing the kinds of weak links that lack the common sense to know that the page you had to like to watch that video of a “naughty schoolgirl being caught by her father doing something” is going to plaster itself all over your newsfeed, then I’m probably not losing much.

The same goes for those “1. Click the picture. 2. Type “I’m a moron” in the comments. 3. See what happens!” posts. You know what happens? All your friends slap their foreheads and second-guess whether to just hide your activity or straight up un-friend you.

These are all different kettles of fish, of course. But the thing that irked me so much about the Facebook Privacy Scam post was the way people were willing to freely share something they clearly knew so little about, yet trusted implicitly.

What made everyone believe this? Was it the relative trustworthiness of the person who first posted it to their wall? Was it the fact that it quoted some legal sounding thing and a law with a long, impressive looking number attached to it? Or was it simply the allure of the being the first to post within their wider friendship group that deactivated the safety switch that normally stops us replying to emails from Nigerian Princes to divulge our bank details and mother’s maiden name?

Or is it simply because we’ve all accepted that many terms and conditions and End User License Agreements without reading what we’re agreeing to that we’re all completely oblivious to our actual rights and responsibilities online? Are we so scared of the imagined consequences we ignored when we signed on that we’re willing to chuck in our credibility for a hoax?

It’s nothing new. In fact, it would appear my usually clever, brilliant, hilarious and lovely friends have simply fallen for the oldest sales trick in the book. Fear, Exclusivity, Greed, Guilt, Need for approval.

The social media landscape is littered with hoaxes. All designed to make us look fegg’n stupid. It seems some people are forgetting to tread carefully.

*This article first appeared in Mumbrella on 28/11/2012