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    This is the personal blog of Simon Kendrick and covers my interests in media, technology and popular culture. All opinions expressed are my own and may not be representative of past or present employers
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My avatar is my digital face

Throughout my digital career (in both amateur and professional status), I’ve used a multitude of personalised avatars.

I’ve pasted ten of the more prominent (in my mind, if not in digital footprint) examples below.


Evolution of avatars

There is a noticeable continuity, as my projected self as evolved. I’d never really wanted my face to be over the internet so after the first iteration and a couple of poor attempts at humour I settled (largely) on popular culture icons. I started with random “cult” characters before progressing to avatars that reflected either my mood, look (when I had bigger hair, there was a resemblance with Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine) or personality.

And so Columbo is where I am now. Although choices can be frivolous, the icons or avatars that we are use are pretty important. It creates a first impression, and will be the image others associate with you, often even after they’ve met you in person.

I’m fairly consistent in my use of Columbo now – the only place I actively and publicly use that doesn’t have Columbo as my avatar is Linked In, due to their insistence that the avatar has to be of you (so I have the default shaded outline). It could be argued that different sites should have different avatars, since they represent separate parts of a distributed digital personality. But while I don’t side with Mark Zuckerberg in thinking that people that have more than one identity are fraudulent, I do prefer the consistency of recognition across sites and platforms.

The beginning

The reason I’m posting about this is that I’m changing my policy on having my face on the internet. This is partly down to my bylines on Mediatel and Research having a picture, but it also reflects the number of contacts I’ve made over the past few years through blogging and through the research industry (and would like to continue making).

When I started this blog, I was wilfully anonymous. That was partly because I wasn’t sure what my employer at the time (ITV) would think of me writing about video content and marketing in a public forum, but also because of my relatively lowly status. When I set this blog up, I was a 24-year-old fairly junior market researcher. The blogs I enjoyed reading and commenting on were written by far more intelligent and experienced people who were mainly in the marketing and comms industries. I felt (rightly or wrongly, you decide) that being anonymous would allow my thoughts and ideas to stand up for what they were, rather than be coloured by perceptions of my relative inexperience.

Anyway, I eventually started writing under my full name and I put a small bio (I hate bios) up. But going under an avatar means that when I go to public events, people who I interact with online won’t recognise me and so it is my prerogative to seek out them. unfortunately, I’m not the most observant person so I’ve missed several opportunities to meet and greet.

The present and future

So, I’m rectifying this by putting a picture of myself on the blog’s about page.

As you can see, it is not a “corporate” picture. I still think corporate pictures are grotesque – either in their “sexy execs” style cringeworthiness or their overly conscious attempt at kookiness cringeworthiness. Fortunately, I’ve managed to avoid this at Essential (for the time being) by having a Wii Mii avatar. I’m not particularly photogenic but the picture nicely captures two of my interests (music and beer), and so could be considered “authentic”. At least, it is more authentic than me sitting on a stool at a 45 degree angle forcing a smile to guy with a huge flash on his camera)

I’m not planning to use my real face as my avatar, even though I’ve read many blogs and articles saying that this is a barrier to properly “connecting” (I suspect this is slightly more of an issue on the other side of the Atlantic), particularly due to the aging process. The blurry avatar that I use was taken when I was 21, yet I still use it in some places. In the four years I’ve used Twitter (I had my anniversary on Tuesday), I’ve seen some people retain the same image of their face. Surely over four years they’ve changed their hairstyle, or gained a few character lines on their face.

While there may be many benefits to using your real face as an avatar, the main drawback is vanity. 70s era Columbo will live forever, and I will continue to use him as long as his personality is consistent with what I want to project.

sk

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Disconnected cinema thoughts

I go to the cinema on a frequent basis. But particularly over the past month, I’ve been thinking about several aspects of the medium.

They are all random thoughts so, rather than flesh them out over a series of posts, I’ve listed them below in a single (rather long) entry. Several, if not all, have been more than adequately covered by people with far more expertise in film than I, but nevertheless…

My motivation to attend

My frequent cinema attendance is behavioural economics in action.

I have a Cineworld Unlimited card, which I have just renewed. Across the 12 months of my first card, I saw 80 films. Yes, more than one a week. Across the previous 12 months, I saw one film – at my local Odeon.

This is a relationship of mutual benefit. Rather than pay £8.50 to see a film, I paid an average of around £1.50. I benefit from cheaper entertainment.

Cineworld benefit in several ways

  • Space capacity – of my 80 visits, only 3 or 4 screenings have approached full capacity. This improves their efficiency
  • Atmosphere – More attendees creates more of an atmosphere – This can be good or bad (see below)
  • Associated revenues – My tickets show a value of £3, rather than £8.50. Film studios take around 70% of box office revenue. Cinemas make their money from the refreshments. Bringing in more viewers extends their ability to sell highly profitable salty and sugary snacks. Though in my case, it is the neighbouring Sainsbury’s that benefits from my regular Dr Pepper and Minstrels.
  • Market share – I am travelling a slightly longer distance to go to Cineworld, rather than the more convenient Odeon. They are also able to influence the choice of film I see – because of my Unlimited card I am wary of paying to go to another cinema to see a film that Cineworld isn’t carrying
  • Growing the market – Cineworld aren’t just in the cinema business but the leisure business. By spending more time in cinemas, I am spending less time (and money) on other leisure and entertainment activities. Two notable examples are that I now go to far fewer music concerts than I used to, and also buy fewer DVDs

In conclusion, the Unlimited card is a fantastic business model.

The experience

The impact of crowds

As mentioned above, a more crowded cinema creates an atmosphere. This can be both good and bad

  • The more people, the “bigger” the experience – for good or bad. According to this, we tend to view experiences better than products, since they are harder to judge and compare.
  • Some genres, such as broad comedies and schlocky horror films, really benefit from the laughs and screams surrounding you. Drag Me to Hell is a great example of my enjoyment of a film being amplified by the people around me
  • However, crowds can also lead to disruptions. In a few screenings I’ve been to, a group of teenagers have been compelled to share their pearls of wisdom to the entire room. At least until they were kindly asked to leave by the security guard.
  • And, every so often, there will the misfortune of sitting next to or near to a person that fidgets, eats and slurps loudly, talks to themselves or kicks the nearby chairs. Or, in a recent example of my own, all of the above

3D and Imax screens

3D and Imax are evidently attempts to combat piracy by trying to convince people that the cinema will offer a unique experience. I’ve had negative experiences with both

  • Imax is only impressive if you are sitting in the absolute centre of the cinema. Sitting to one side means that you will retain your peripheral vision. Cinemas should offer variable pricing depending on the placing of seats to reflect this
  • Avatar is now the highest grossing film of all. It wouldn’t have achieved this in 2D – not only because 3D films cost more to see, but also because many people went as a novelty to experience 3D for the first time. This will have diminishing returns. In my view, 3D doesn’t enhance films. Terminator 2 and The Matrix succeeded in 2D – they had amazing special effects but also an immersive storyline. Ultimately, it is the storyline that is immersive and not the visuals. 3D done badly can be distracting; I think it only works in gimmicky films such as My Bloody Valentine 3D or Tinto Brass films.

The marketing around the film

Orange Spots

The Orange Gold spots featuring Mr Dresden, Eliot and the Film Council have ended. Despite some people not liking them, I on the whole enjoyed them even though the more recent ones (Sigourney Weaver and Danny Glover) were pretty poor.

They have been replaced by spoof trailers – the first of which being the A Team. I have reservations about using proper forthcoming films for these spots

  • There may be issues regarding favouritism to certain studios
  • It can saturate the impact when the proper A Team trailers are released
  • Continued exposure could actually have a negative effect in putting people off the film once it comes out, since they might get sick of the characters

The trailers

I generally like seeing film trailers, though there are a couple of problems I’ve noticed

  • It’s quite annoying when a cinema shows the trailer, but not the actual film. Surely they can plan for this? For instance, the Cineworld I regularly attend had heavily trailed Case 39 but on its week of release opted to show the similarly poor-performing Legion instead. Additionally, why on earth would they show Mesrine Part 1 but not Part 2? Defies logic.
  • Films get delayed. This can mean that you either see a trailer that piques your interest but then hear nothing about it for the next 9 months (as is the case of Salt), or the trailer ends up getting repeated constantly over a period of several months (as is the case of Cop Out)

The marketing within the films

Product placement

The James Bond franchise often gets labelled as the biggest perpetrator of product placement. However, Iron Man (and its sequel) seems to have taken it to a new level

  • Audi got a spot on the film poster (NB: This isn’t the poster I saw, but acts as an example)
  • Burger King was central to a minor plot point in the first film
  • The sequel has 11 marketing partners, with the media buys valued at $100m

Despite the overt marketing, the gestural interface of his technology (something Faris Yakob has talked about recently) was pretty cool.

Depictions of marketers

The Joneses is a high concept dramedy about four stealth marketers that pose as a family in order to sell goods. Predictably, elements of the story are pretty ludicrous (how do they measure sales uplift? Do people not shop over the internet?) and the ending is predictable, but one of the central premises of the film is that marketing is ultimately dangerous

  • It promotes short-term spending over long-term stability
  • People think they need to buy into a lifestyle
  • Luxury goods are only important in the signals they convey; the product itself is almost incidental
  • Marketers inherently lie – not only to prospective customers but also to themselves.

Evidently, the film concentrates on exaggerating the negative aspects of marketing, but it is another example of the negative perceptions the marketing industry promote within wider society

The films

Franchising

Studios appear to have gotten so risk averse that only auteurs (or, at minimum, “name directors”) are able to attract big budgets for original ideas. Otherwise, it seems big budget films have to be based on an existing property. Recent or forthcoming examples include comics (Scott Pilgrim), books (Twilight), toys (Transformers), computer games (Prince of Persia), legend (Robin Hood) or sequels to previously original ideas (Wall Street 2)

Remakes

In addition to the above, there has been a proliferation of remakes. Michael Bay, a perpetrator of numerous crimes against cinema, has been remaking several classic horror films – the most recent of which is A Nightmare on Elm Street.

Of course, these remakes completely miss the point. The original films succeeded because they were well made, and entered the cultural consciousness far beyond their initial release. In the case of Nightmare, the core concept is compromised all memorable surrealism is removed; all that is left is an overbearing score, fast cuts designed to manufacture cheap shocks, and some gore. Unlike the original, it will be quickly forgotten.

The need for a cinema release

Even the most artistically bereft films, seemingly guaranteed to lose money, get a full cinema release. Losses are exacerbated due to the need for a heavy marketing campaign.

Is this an investment for long-term success? While films are perhaps not as critic proof as they used to be, a cinema release still provides name recognition and a sense of legitimacy that straight to DVD titles don’t get. So, even if a film released in cinema gets terrible reviews, it might still be assumed to be better than a straight to DVD title and thus stands a better chance to make money through rental, purchase and syndication. And I don’t see how moves to downloads would change this.

sk

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/biblarte/2687947869/

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