Saturday, September 19, 2009

PARK(ing) Day - challenges assumptions and sparks new conversations

September 18 is PARK (ing) Day. In cities around the world parking spots were “reclaimed” and transformed into public parks and social spaces. The annual event is all about bringing awareness and starting a provocative conversation on how urban public space is allocated and used. Started in 2005 by Rebar, an art and design studio based in San Francisco - a city where up to 70% of the downtown’s outdoor space is dedicated to the vehicle, while only a fraction of that space is allocated to the public realm.

As the group says “PARK(ing) Day challenges people to rethink the way streets are used and reinforces the need for broad-based changes to urban infrastructure”. "In urban centers around the world, inexpensive curbside parking results in increased traffic, wasted fuel and more pollution," says Rebar's Matthew Passmore. "The strategies that generated these conditions are not sustainable, nor do they promote a healthy, vibrant urban human habitat. PARK(ing) Day is about re-imagining the possibilities of the metropolitan landscape."

This very same question was pondered in 100 cities over four continents yesterday as artists, activists and citizens transformed metered parking spaces into public parks for a day. Over the four years of PARK(ing) Day, the conversation has extended to broader urban issues from public parks to free health clinics, from art galleries to demonstration gardens. PARK(ing) Day participants have claimed the metered parking space as a rich new territory for creative experimentation, activism, socializing and play.

While participation is focused on not-for-profit organizations, there are some commercial enterprises that did participate - businesses driven by a mission to change the world by offering earth friendly alternatives to common needs. One of these common needs is transportation. In Seattle, a “coalition” of transport groups leveraged the event to make people aware of alternatives to owning a car and promoting a healthier lifestyle. Living in the Pacific Northwest is all about access to the mountains. Zipcar was on hand to promote, in a very low key way, their solution as an alternatives to car ownership.

A two year old non-profit, was also out promoting the “undriver license”. Their goal is to reduce car use on the planet and saw the event as a way to playfully interrupt people’s assumptions and inspire them to think about other car-less options.

This is a great example of how genius can be found by re-imagining the obvious and challenging common assumptions. It’s also a wonderful example of guerilla marketing.

Whether you are a non profit or commercial venture, how can you rethink the commonplace into something that innovates or sparks conversations about your brand, mission or cause?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Surprise and Delight with Virgin Group and Sir Richard Branson

Sir Richard Branson and any of his Virgin companies can always be counted on for their creative and remarkable ideas for marketing their products and services. The recession has not stopped any of the innovation at Virgin. In fact, almost the opposite is true. According to Sir Richard, “Bad Times offer an opportunity to show off your brand’s true colors”. He feels that consistently communicating your values and attitude keeps your customers loyal, despite a long and bumpy ride. “If they don’t hear from you, they will lose interest and go elsewhere”

So what has the Virgin team been up to recently?

Screw you Recession – A statement that captured the sentiment of the Canadian populace was turned into a weblog that encouraged user-generated content and money saving tips. The weblog was launched with the provocative headline on a billboard in Dundas Square, the equivalent of Times Square.

Yesterday marked the last day of the site since “the recession is now lifting”. It’s a cheeky site full of attitude and a reflection of the Virgin brand's irreverent personality.

WiFi on board – Virgin America announced a test flight with Wifi and threw a party in the sky for social media/YouTube digerati and friends which was streamed live from 35,000 feet to a YouTube event in San Francisco. In addition, when Wifi went fleetwide, Virgin celebrated the occasion with the first ever Skype chat with Oprah. While Virgin wasn’t the first airline to have Wifi on board, they certainly did a good job reaching their target customer and made a big splash in a way that reinforced their chic yet accessible positioning.

Day in The Clouds - an online scavenger hunt with Virgin America and Google Apps that was held in the clouds and on the ground. The purpose was to showcase and bring awareness of what people can do on-the-go with technology.

Freefest – Music is at the core of the Virgin brand. One of the outcomes of the recession has been the decline in music festival sales as people have scaled back on discretionary spending. Seeing this trend, Virgin Mobile USA was inspired to make their annual summer festival free. “Freefest” was announced on Jimmy Fallon’s show and the announcement was tweeted and retweeted around the country. As a result, when tickets were released four days later, they were scooped up in minutes.

According to Branson, “ we placed more value on warming consumer’s hearts than on ticket sales. My hope was that the festival would be a great day of community and music, while also showing that a daring plan like giving something for free will pay off in ways that money just can’t buy. That is the sort of brand they know will continue to surprise and delight. And who doesn't want that?

credit: PR Week Sept 2009 issue, Boing Boing

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Cell phone Karaoke and Symphonies

I'm attached to my cell phone because it keeps me connected to the world but more and more because of all the cool things it does. In fact, I would say that I use my phone as a speaking device only 15% (or less) of all applications. I’m imagining the day when I'll leave the house with only my cell phone and a tube of lipstick. It will be my method of payment, the electronic key to my home, the device that starts the ignition in my car and opens the garage door automatically.

Some of the most innovative applications of the cell phone as social device are related to music making. There’s a whole new “genre” of music that the cell phone is inspiring, making the creation and perhaps even the enjoyment of music more accessible to generations who don’t have the access (or patience) to master a traditional instrument like the flute or violin.

Yet cell phones create both order and disorder. They can be very disruptive, annoying and downright rude. A professor of music from the Indiana University, David Baker, recently premiered the Concertino for Cell Phones and Orchestra. He wanted to illustrate how cellular phones create both order and disorder in our society. "All man-made devices can be used for good and for bad," says Baker, who has been nominated for both a Pulitzer Prize and a Grammy. He adds that while cell phones are great for keeping in touch and getting help in emergencies, they're also very disruptive. The orchestra will alternate between using the cell phones melodiously and as interrupting, annoying rings.

Creating music and disruption has also been used in a fun way by Improv Everywhere who create flashmob events around the world.

Music is social - it brings people together; it's something we love to share. These new innovations will open up a whole new world of applications and creativity.

For other videos on cell phone music making , check out Mashable.