25 July 2015

Secret Ingredients

An utterly disjointed (and mostly disgusting) selection of link sausages on the platter for the week...

  • Recently driving in North Portland — and by "recently" I mean "since 01 July," when Certain Substances became legal in Oregon — I saw a grocery store sign advertising a special on "Stoned Fruits." At least it was truth in advertising...
  • And it was a crappy drive getting to Portland, after getting caught (fortunately, it was just a short delay because I got by before HazMat came) when the interstate was closed for an overturned truck. Its cargo: PortaPotties.
  • Kris Rusch offers some interesting thoughts on the foolishness of publisher branding that expose a further industry blind spot. There's a fundamental problem with the entertainment industry's approaches to branding — not just publishing, but through every segment: Nobody at the corporate (or at least at the conglomerate) level is asking the fundamental question of what can be joined together to form a discernable brand. With extraordinarily rare (and self-limiting) exceptions, it's simply not something that can be done at the corporate level for corporate identities. Branding in the arts really does not extend beyond the artist/author/creator. Consider these examples:

    • Name the musicians in the "stable" of The Artist Formerly Known as the Artist Formerly Known as Prince... and believe me, there was a concerted effort to jointly identify them.
    • It's not just popular music. It's pretty easy to associate the Berlin Phil (particularly under Karajan) with Deutsche Gramophon. Without researching, can you identify the labels associated with Concertgebouw Amsterdam, the London Symphony Orchestra, the (US) National Symphony Orchestra, or even the Boston Pops?
    • Without searching, name the publishers of Scott Turow, Stephen King, John Grisham, James Michener, and Thomas Harris. Yes, it's a trick question on multiple levels.
    • Even film is not exempt from this problem. With the exception of coownership of the source material by part of the same conglomerate, it's quite unusual to be able to name the actual production company for any film, or even the distributor. Name the production company and studio for Star Trek, for Twilight, for To Kill a Mockingbird, and for Psycho. And yes, most of those are trick questions, too.

    Instead, MBA thinking makes management at distribution-of-the-arts conglomerates believe that the conglomerate is a valid brand identification for fundamentally dissimilar works. The obvious counterexample — Harlequin — has worked only because its various works are far from dissimilar... and even then fell apart when Harlequin tried to expand beyond the narrowest conception of small-r romance. And the less said about "live" arts, especially theatre, the better: With the single exception of the Royal Shakespeare Company (or, perhaps, the Ashland Shakespeare Festival), which relies upon an overarching brand name to its identity, it's almost impossible to name a "brand" relating to the distribution point.

    What Ms Rusch is describing for her own company, and her own works, is different: Her efforts are designed to enhance an existing identification of the origin, nature, and quality of goods... not to establish one out of thin air.

  • RIP E.L. Doctorow.