Disney buys Marvel

Who am I to ask whether Disney can pull off the purchase of Marvel comics, but here are a couple thoughts.

Disney characters were always so wholesome, that after I got over the whole era where you had your parents buy Mickey-Mouse ears, the whole character line-up always seemed too pure, too whit-bread to relate to my experience. Marvel characters were diametric opposites: born out of the awkward pain of life. That struggle is the whole backstory of the X-Men which as a kid I never thought would make it to the movie theaters because it was seemingly too rebellious.

Think about the dramatic difference between the first full-length feature Batman film and Batman Begins. Event the updated Michael Keaton Batman (which outdid the Adam West show) was a studio production whose hardest edge was having Prince do the music. By contrast, Chritian Bale’s Batman Begins was a hardened epic whose approach surprised people because it drew on the dark history and past of Batman for the movie’s energy. That energy was equaled in the recent sequel. Given the branding of Disney, it’s hard to imagine the divide that allows those brands to exist in the same house.

Disney should’ve bought DC Comics instead and tried to develop the stories of some of the line-up on that side or reinvigorate the timid, staid approaches to the story-telling. DC Comics was a more brightly balanced line-up of characters that seemed to match the spirit of Disney and by contrast it’s probably undervalued as all the Marvel Comics are hitting movie theaters for god, bad and terrible movie offerings.

I, for one, would watch a movie that explained the value of Aquaman’s ability. Or, I ‘d love for them to answer a question like whether Aquaman gave Wonder Woman airfare for flying him to the scene of Hall of Justice conflicts. Also, what was the value of Wonder Woman’s plane being invisible if the occupants could be seen?

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"Who cares. It's a catalog!!!"

Today, the Baltimore Sun reported on its website that Ikea has converted its catalog from Futura to Verdana in order to add to its ability to be translated to the web and ostensibly other electronic formats. For me, Futura the font has always been a bit of an old friend ever since I started using Mac IIs, whereas Verdana has been a quirky neighbor (it just showed up)in that I never really understood it as a stand-in for Helvetica yet not even as elegant in a simple way. Well, no wonder, the article reported it was made by Microsoft for computer screens which perhaps justifies it as a backup font for Dreamweaver preferences, but not one that’s really eloquent for design and print applications.

Thing is, Ikea has been famous for the classic variances in their cataolg and the quirky furniture names, all of which has been rolled up into an approach that has become quite distinctively different, and as such, familiar. The shift is something that has made some waves amongst some designers, with some apparently protesting the move. Just for kicks, I took The Sun’s internet web poll which could never be confused as scientific and the result was that 84% of people don’t care about the font change, where 12% and 3% respectively vote for Futura and Verdana. (Is there really anyone who prefers Verdana over Futura?)

Anyway, this gets me to wondering whether the work of selecting fonts and leading, legibility and presentation makes a difference to people at all? Or does the work of making things readable is falling into a grand notion of ubiquity? To what extent should it matter (or not) whether the intricacies of what designers do matters to people? Marketing—and by extensin direct mail—often has reached a point of saturation where most entities are “playing to the middle” (trying to be the same) and reaching the most people it can, when continuing to be the different, unique entity that Ikea is may have more value.

Corporations in Formula 1…

I was truck by the saturation of BMW commercials where they say “Racing is in our blood” juxtaposed to their decision to withdraw from F1. And here is another of the ironies of marketing. I won’t begrudge BMW their due as one of the more accomplished racing marques, particularly in road racing (utilizing the actual production car), that exist. But that has me thinking about the place of corporations in Formula 1 vs. the role of real racers and privateers, dedicated to being in the sport despite the cost and the downturn.

Last fall, Honda’s sudden withdrawal sent shockwaves to the sport, relegating the once-proud Honda Team, to a heap of parts and pieces that were bandied about in search of a buyer quite pitifully. Fortunately, Ross Brawn was able to put together an ownership group from within that took the team still intact in this season where they’ve competed quite successfully and have a bid for the constructor’s championship.

But I’m left to question Honda as a “race-car” company instead of a company that has raced successfully. While they still supply IRL engines (yawn), the fact of the matter is that their footprint amongst racing is a bit mixed (corporate goals are clearly committed), so one could perhaps expect a withdrawal from them. Their branding is divided between the notion of a reasonable car company bent on supplying the world with “reasonable” cars at a “reasonable” price. I don’t know if that’s the pedigree of Formula 1.

Formula 1, frankly is all about the unreasonable. The cost, the spectale—I mean everything about it is unreasonable. (I complain that the Baltimore stadia were built with taxpayer money and nearly “given” to the teams to rake in profits, but that’s nothng compare to the cost in F1). What keeps Sir Frank Williams fielding a mid-pack team (for the last ten years) on the grid in an unreasonable cost climate for a privateer race outfit? Or kept Paul Stoddart in the field for over fifteen years with Minardi with a team who scored as many points in its existence as the Ferraris score in one season? the notion that being a true race fan is all about what’s beyond reasonable.

Now that’s not to say that corporations cannot be in Formula 1, but the series can’t be simply for the manufacturer’s benefit. It can’t be a big commercial of lethargic technology, uninteresting rules and venues for companies to debut their product (think NASCAR). I, as a consumer, understand that corporations make corporate decisions for the benefit of the corporation and shareholder, not for the unreasonable opiate of pursuing racing dominance. But as race fans I understand that the commitment is far beyond what a car manufacturer can defend in a corporate setting.

So many corporations over the last 30 years have had a racing division within them where that division was given some autonomy and, in some cases, lots of money to get some result. And sooner or later that fantastic budget was reigned in for some new corporate strategy. And so it was with the shock of Jaguar’s withdrawal ten years or so ago, although not a terrific surprise given the contraction of Ford (even then in 2004). Or the recent and sudden withdrawal of Honda—whose withdrawal doomed two teams. All reasonable corporate decisions that lacked the soul of the true fan. And of course, now with BMW.

(Note that in that same time many privateer teams have failed pursuing the mammoth costs and grid results brought to bear by these huge corporations. So this thought could work out to be an endorsement of the top-end cost modification discussion occurring now in search of a more stable corporate commitment and a more stable privateer playing field because the mix of them is a good way to go.)

Being in Formula 1 takes a commitment as vaulted as the mission statement and when a company places that mantle into its marketing, it makes sense for them to exhibit staying power, or else it puts the marketing into question. BMW fans I think were under the impression well “we’ve been in road racing for a long time and now that we’re into Formula 1 (full-time in 2005) we’d be in to stay”.

Ferrari is a perfect example of the staying power of a corporation in Formula 1. No one questions Ferrari’s commitment, even when they were the worst team back in the early 1990s.

Luca Badoer's Race For Fame…

The Belgium Grand Prix is now in the history books and also may have been the nail in the coffin for Luca Badoer, test driver at Ferrari for nearly ten years. The thirty-eight year old’s last live-race seat was in 1999 as a member of the lowly Minardi team when in the European Grand Prix in a stunning television moment, the driver, in fourth place at the time, had a gearbox failure and upon parking the car broke down and wept. But that’s Formula 1 for you.

And don’t I know it: my fantasy league results are kaput after the accident on the first lap claimed my two drivers Jenson Button of the Brawn GP Team and Lewis Hamilton of the McLaren Mercedes Team. To make matters worse, my manufacturer had a failure that throws uncertainty into the standings that leave me wondering: “Did I score a point?” Anyway….

The prospects grow increasingly dim on Badoer who has had to fend off press rumors for the whole time he has filled in for the ailing Felipe Massa. I feel bad for Luca in that, he has seemingly taken up the position of “Dave” on the Formula 1 grid. You know “Dave”, the movie where Kevin Cline is an ordinary dude who becomes president as a fill-in only to then take hold of the job and make real change if only for a short. But the bad result (of finishing near the back) at Spa seems to loom large (at least for Ferrari), particularly when the interviewer asks a competitor if he’ll be assuming your seat for the next Grand Prix.

Sadder still is the notion that even a Ferrari test driver is about a second off the rest of the field’s best time and now in my mind the gap between the testers and the racers is even wider still. That just gets down to just how difficult driving in Formula 1 is. While among the best drivers in the world, you can’t possibly have a bad week. No, “that was your week” and that’s it. Ten years in the waiting , surely Badoer thought he had the ability only for it to be boiled down to two weeks. Difficult to say where things’ll go, in that being at 38, Ferrari may move to give younger drivers the test seat with the knowledge that Badoer is at very least a project in getting up to race trim.

Good luck, Luca, but either way there is life after Formula 1. Allan McNish, test-driver extraordinaire, went on to successful race Le Mans prototypes (and still holding it down) with the Audi team after failing to get a seat at Toyota, a perennial mid-pack Formula 1 team. His F1 days are but a distant memory.

Banning of Robocalls a good move to permission marketing.

August 28, 2009 – NPR’s Morning Edition reported that the FTC has recently banned most automated telephone calls today in a story listed on the NPR website. This is good news whose time has been coming for a while.

From the NPR website: “Government regulators issued a new rules Thursday banning telemarketers from sending out prerecorded phone marketing pitches. As of next Tuesday, robocallers face up to $16,000 in fines, unless they have your written permission do so. There are several exceptions including calls that prorvide airline flight information.” (More online)

It’s time that marketers of all stripes realize that they should put some thought and strategy behind marketing messages to people. Whether it’s the duplicate catalogs or unwanted email, the technology is in place to tailor our messages to inform, remind and not anger folks when we need to communicate a product or service. But the “robo-call” people have sent it over the edge leading to a contraction of the service. And good thing.

These messages are sometimes misleading and take advantage of people’s time and patience by plying messages when one might otherwise be relaxing. One thing marketers should know is that people aren’t sitting around wondering about health care options when they’re interrupted at the dinner table. That’s why a real person asking permission for your time is the time-honored and effective way to communicate with a person. We live in an on-demand world, where marketers are best served by making their message available in an “on-demand” format.

The same message vilified by many, may be welcome to others if the prospect can get it when they want. That’s why building rapport with clients (whether you speak to them face-to-face or not) is so vital today as it ever was. We can create and promote systems that allow “easy-in, easy-out” systems, that allows folks to get the information they need, when they need it. And let this be a lesson to the increasingly out-of-work robo-call marketer.

Linked In Question: Should I (or you) create separate Twitter accounts to "follow and be followed" by different interests?

I think the day has already come for (some) regular Twitter users to have separate accounts. Twitter as great as it is, provides alot of wasted pixel noise and navel-gazing. A report on the BBC website recently claimed that 40% of tweets are babble. I’m inclined to believe them, when thinking about my own tweets. I have created two accounts one for my business interests and one for my more mundane—or poignant—but less-focused personal likes.

I often comment on various things from happiness that my favorite cookies are at least a dollar and a half cheaper at Wal-Mart than anywhere else to commenting on the failed redesign of the Tropicana Orange Juice container. I quickly realized that while these are both of interest to me, they may not be of interest to my friends, Facebook friends (people with whom I am friendly, but not necessarily close) and Twitter followers (in some cases, people I don’t know at all).

But as it relates to your interest, you are (or can be) a content generator and in this “open-source” society, your take has a role in shaping the world of thought. While I suppose I can tolerate a celebrity talking about cooking eggs or picking up his kids from school or something (I can’t blame that person, if I followed them), Twitter’s promise is quick, yet defining, information that reveals things that regard to that person’s way of seeing the world or deeper insights than I might get through other means.

As a designer, I look for design tweets or as a cyclist, I look for comments about training as reasons why I’d follow a “random” person. Frankly, I wonder why people follow me. That question puts pressure (good pressure, sometimes) on me to comment on how I see things and contribute to the “discussion” as it were.