Pixies’ Doolittle Meets Rock Band

Next week, Black Francis’ reach will extend to virtual gamers in more than 3 million living rooms around the world. The Pixies’ classic “Doolittle” will receive Xbox 360 treatment on June 24 when the entire record is released on the Xbox Live Marketplace for the video game Rock Band.

Rock Band allows up to four players to compete in a simulated concert experience. Depending on the song, the instruments include a microphone, guitar, bass and drums. In other words, players can become Black Francis, Kim Deal, Joey Santiago or David Lovering without the always-touring-together tension.

Following in the suit of the Cars’ self-titled LP and Judas Priest’s “Screaming for Vengeance,” “Doolittle” is the third album released for Rock Band in its entirety.

As much as I like the Pixies for garnering mainstream media attention, this ploy does seem like a sell-out act. “Doolittle” is a near-perfect record in indie music. Artists such as Bono, David Bowie and – perhaps most importantly – Kurt Cobain have cited the Pixies as a major musical influence.

The Pixies even became more popular after their reunion tour than before breaking up, only because it took years for music folks to discover the Pixies.

So should I hold the “Doolittle’s” Rock Band release against the band? Before the reunion tour, I would never have considered a mutual venture between Microsoft and the Pixies. On their own, I approve of both entities. But put together, they represent completely separate images and values.

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June 16, 2008 at 8:38 pm 2 comments

First Article for Jezebel Music

This article is my first submission to Jezebel Music.

Virginian Jury Convicts Man of Online Copyright Infringement

Congratulate a Virginian jury for quickly finishing the first-ever music pirating trial in two days.

On May 23, the federal jury convicted a man of criminal online copyright infringement, giving music labels a landmark victory against online music sharers. If convicted, Barry Gitarts, 25, faces up to five years in jail, $250,000 in fines and three years of supervised release. Gitarts’ case marks the first instance where an online file sharer could serve jail time for uploading music.

Gitarts played a significant role in a file-sharing group called Apocalypse Production Crew. APC acted as a first release point for online file sharers, hosting yet-to-be-released music, movies, games and software on its servers.

Under the alias “Dextro,” Gitarts administered a server in Texas from at least June 2003 to April 2004. APC’s leader, Mark Shumaker, allegedly paid Gitarts to run the Texan server. The U.S.-based servers helped lead to Gitarts’ conviction, in addition to 15 APC members who have already been convicted of copyright infringement.

By refusing to settle outside of court, Gitarts gives the Recording Industry of America a poignant example of music pirating. Brad Buckles, executive vice president of the RIAA’s anti-piracy division, said “For the first time ever, a criminal online music piracy case went to trial, and the jury rendered a swift and unanimous verdict.”

“The crimes committed here – as well as the harm to the music community – are severe, and so are the consequences,” said Buckles.

Gitarts receives his sentence on August 8, 2008.

June 5, 2008 at 7:36 am Leave a comment

NASA Sends Buzz to Space

Previously, NASA and Disney shared only worldwide recognition – NASA for missions to the moon and Buzz Aldrin and Disney for animated movies and Buzz Lightyear. However, in a governmental bid to create renewed interest in space flight among young students, NASA will send Buzz Lightyear to space on May 31.

The educational program, “Toys in Space,” will provide instructional materials for teachers to assist in math and science lessons. Astronauts aboard the STS-124 mission also will write blog entries and create online games for students. Buzz will transfer to the International Space Station in June. After several months in zero gravity, the foot-long astronaut Buzz will return to Walt Disney World Resort.

According to a NASA press release, the goal of “Toys in Space” is to encourage “students to pursue studies in science, technology and mathematics subjects, which are vitally important in sustaining U.S. economic competitiveness and technological leadership.”

NASA’s long-term goals seem a bit far-fetched. After all, NASA is trying to sustain the United States’ technological prowess with a toy. Still, I credit NASA for reaching out to young students with this new program. The “Toy Story” franchise made Pixar a household name, so it might successfully promote space exploration to elementary school students.

My one criticism of this project is that Buzz Lightyear may not be all that relevant to school kids today. “Toy Story” came out in 1995, and its sequel followed four years later. After nine years removed from a theater, do 10-year-olds still identify with Buzz Lightyear?

May 29, 2008 at 8:37 am 1 comment

Made to Stick – Credibility

As I posted previously from “Made to Stick,” concreteness strips a message of abstract elements. It gives the audience tangible elements that are easily understood. In chapter four of “Made to Stick,” the Heath brothers explain how a message must also have credibility to become “sticky.”

Credibility stems from how people believe ideas. Honest and truthful message sources garner better credibility than messages built on celebrity status. If a genuinely good idea originates from a questionable source, then the idea may be dismissed prematurely. At the same time, a false idea from a credible source may be taken for truth.

Communicators rely on their message’s credibility for maximum effectiveness. “Made to Stick” outlines several ways to produce credible messages. One way is create an anti-authority. The book’s example of an anti-authority is Pam Laffin, a smoker with emphysema. Laffin’s involvement in an anti-smoking campaign gave the campaign credibility, because audiences saw smoking’s effects on one ill individual.

Another way to give messages credibility is to provide details. Vague messages will be dismissed earlier than messages with details, even if the details are irrelevant. Messages can also ask the audiences to test a claim found within the message. The Heath Brothers say, “Testable credentials can provide an enormous credibility boost, since they essentially allow your audience members to ‘try before they buy.’”

An example of message lacking credibility is a 1998 drug advertisement by a Partnership for a Drug-Free America. PDFA created the famous “This is Your Brain on Drugs” ad in the 1980s. Ten years later, PDFA updated the campaign. Their newer version of the ad can be found here.

In the 1990s ad, Rachael Leigh Cook holds an egg (symbolizing your brain) and a frying pan (symbolizing heroin). Cook then smashes the egg with the frying pan, proclaiming, “This is your brain after snorting heroin.” She then unleashes full-blown frying pan fury, smashing plates, lights and glasses. The ad tries to connect Cook’s fit of rage with heroin’s pitfalls.

In no aspect is this ad credible. It shows nothing that resembles actual heroin use. PDFA bypasses any sign of wit or cleverness; instead, PDFA uses semi-celebrity Rachael Leigh Cook breaking glassware to demonstrate heroin’s effects.

To make this ad more credible, PDFA may have employed an anti-authority figure, such as a recovering heroin addict. This method would elevate the message’s emotional appeal, instead of using frightening tactics. Or PDFA should have supplied details on heroin use to reach their audiences. A concrete fact has more credibility than a vague fit of rage.

By relying on a celebrity to communicate its message, PDFA’s ad seems silly instead of credible.

May 22, 2008 at 10:47 am 1 comment

Made to Stick – Concreteness

In my public relations writing class, we are reading the highly regarded book “Made to Stick” by Chip Heath and Dan Heath. In “Made to Stick,” the Heath brothers outline and develop six categories to make ideas “sticky.” In chapter three, the book concentrates on the element “Concreteness.”

Put simply, a concrete idea is barren of abstract elements. The Heaths say, “If you can examine something with your senses, it’s concrete.” Concreteness provides messages with tangible elements; people can connect with an idea on a basic level. Anyone can grasp a concrete idea and remember its core message.

On the other hand, abstract ideas require prior knowledge and understanding. The Heaths say the “difference between an expert and a novice is the ability to think abstractly.” Experts can communicate abstractly but forget the needs of novices. Therefore, concrete ideas are more easily understood for everyone. Concrete communication improves coordination between groups of people with different levels of expertise.

The following sentence from the 2007 Disney shareholder letter is an example of abstract language: “We live in a challenging and dynamic environment and feel it is imperative to apply operational and financial discipline and to manage costs carefully.” As the sentence currently reads, can anyone derive concrete information from it?

To improve this sentence, the unnecessary abstraction and redundancy must be removed. For the redundancy side, “challenging” and “dynamic” serve the same purpose, as do “manage costs and “financial discipline.” Also, I suggest splitting the sentence apart for distinction between the ideas.

Thus, my improved form for the shareholder letter: Our inventive methods have allowed us to thrive for more than 80 years in an ever-changing environment. However, we must pursue our creative endeavors with our Company’s operations and budget in mind.

May 20, 2008 at 12:14 pm 2 comments

Accenture Blog Review

According to the Accenture Web site, “Accenture is a global management consulting firm, technology services and outsourcing company, committed to delivering innovation.” Accenture consults companies in many industries, including aerospace, banking, communications and energy. By my count, Accenture consults for 24 industries, and the full list can be found at Accenture’s Web site.

Accenture must direct and maintain its plethora of divisions and personnel. This widespread nature of the 24 divisions plays into Accenture’s blogs as well. Accenture maintains eight blogs from its main blog page. In addition to a primary Accenture business blog, the blogs are split into three categories, including Careers, Communications and Hi Tech and Technology. Accenture uses a variety of writers to keep the content varied and updated.

The following a review of Accenture’s blog for the Fortune 500 business blogging wiki. I will review the Accenture blog in eight areas and try to encompass all the sub-blogs into this review as well.

Ease of Finding: 9. The Accenture home page links to the corporate blogs from the sidebar, Inside Accenture.com, and from the top menu bar, “Research & Insights.” So far, so good.

As for search engines, Google and Yahoo each list the Accenture blogs at the top of the results for “Accenture blogs” or “Accenture corporate blog.” However, neither of the search engine queries link to the main blog home page; instead they link to sub-categories within the Accenture blog hierarchy. I wish Accenture would be able to link to the main page for the top result, but, either way, the search engines bring the web surfer to the right place.

Frequency: 6. Depending on the sub-blog within the Accenture blogs, the frequency of updates varies. The personal blogs maintained by Andy Zimmerman, Kristen Ediger and Ed Gottsman feature more updates than the blogs that several people oversaw. These single-author blogs tend to be updated at least once a week, and often the authors blog frequently about current topics. However, the entire Careers section of the blogs lacks much content. On the whole, most of the Accenture blogs are updated at least on a monthly basis.

Engaging Writing: 9. I enjoy Accenture’s use of different writers and topics in its blogs. The content on the blogs seems clear, concise and easy to read. Each writer brings new a new idea to the table, and Accenture gives freedom to its bloggers. Ed Gottsman writes about police cameras and Twitter. Many writers in the Careers blog wished their readers a happy new year. Kristen Ediger, a consulting analyst, keeps a video blog, so her readers can follow her travels. These posts keep the tone personal and fend off any corporate rhetoric.

Relevant: 8. Accenture has a varied amount of readers. The company does not cater to one specific industry. Therefore, each reader of Accenture blogs may find only a quarter or less of the material relevant for their needs. But due to the organization of the blogs, readers can locate what they want and go from there. Also, some of the blog posts reflect just the thoughts and opinions of Accenture employees. Are these posts directly relevant to Accenture readers? Maybe not, but they give Accenture a personal face when reading about the company.

Focused: 9. All together, the Accenture blogs jump topics post to post. But I don’t have the feeling Accenture aims for one overall message, at least not directed toward me. At the top of each sub-blog, there is a description of what the reader will find in that blog.

For example, Ed Gottsman’s blog is described as the following: “A weblog is an online, semi-personal journal offering the opinion and commentary of the author on conversations and stories that appear elsewhere on the Web, along with links to relevant websites and articles.”

On the other hand, the main company blog on High Performance Business brings “you our latest research findings, insights and experiences on accelerating high performance from a host of company leaders.”

From there, the blogs all fit under their corresponding heading. As long as readers find the blog they seek, Accenture keeps the content focused.

Honesty: 9. Right from the blogging home page, Accenture states: “The opinions of the writers do not necessarily reflect the position of Accenture on these subjects.” The company lets its writers write without micromanaging the content; this action automatically makes Accenture more credible.

Social Interaction Design: 8. Anyone can comment on the Accenture blogs given they input a valid e-mail address and a name. Accenture is interested in using new Web 2.0 tools like video blogging.

On another, slightly related note, Accenture has a Twitter account.

Responsiveness: 3. Accenture’s responsiveness is completely dependent on the author of the article. Sometimes it’s a quick response, other times it’s a slow response. Many times, there is no response at all.

Accenture’s blog receive a score out of 61 out of 80. Overall, the main problem of the Accenture blogs is the often sluggish responses to comments. Other than this, Accenture maintains a high-quality blog.

May 15, 2008 at 7:20 am 8 comments

Dove & Dangin Controversy

Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty emphasizes a woman’s inner beauty. The campaign succeeds on both a public relations and advertising level. The campaign uses “real women” models and authentic photos. For the four years, Dove has harped upon its genuine interest in women’s self-esteem. Dove has even produced videos like “Onslaught” and “Evolution” that demonstrate the unnatural depictions of women in the media.

However, in The New Yorker magazine last week one of Dove’s touch-up artists, Pascal Dangin, expressed his involvement in the Pro-Age portion of the Campaign for Real Beauty. “Do you know how much retouching was on that?” Dangin said. “But it was great to do, a challenge, to keep everyone’s skin and faces showing the mileage but not looking unattractive.”

(Pascal Dangin photo courtesy of The New Yorker magazine)

In the same article, Dangin’s work is characterized by a “whiff of black magic” and it’s “not often discussed outside of [fashion circles].” Could the Dove photographs be phonies?

Dove representatives immediately responded that the photos were not retouched beyond basic color correction and dust removal. The photographer and Dangin himself joined Dove by saying that the photographs were authentic. Dangin said his quote was taken out of context.

So, where is the controversy? Dangin and Dove both refute the fact the photos were retouched beyond basic, ethical changes. However, from the beginning of the campaign, Dove has maintained that its photos are not retouched. Dove promised models in the Pro-Age campaign that their photos were not retouched. Wendy Katzman, one of the models, told Advertising Age magazine, “We asked and were explicitly told that none of our [Dove Pro-Age] photos were retouched. I just heard about The New Yorker article last night and was pretty upset about it!”

Despite the minor changes, Dove maintained from the beginning that it did not change the photographs. These inconsistent statements led to Dove’s seemingly contradictory behavior. Will Dove lose some of its brand power from this latest controversy? Does this issue even matter? Let me know your thoughts.

May 12, 2008 at 1:38 pm 5 comments

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About the Blogger

My name is Ben Benson. I attend the University of Oregon. I will graduate next spring with a degree in public relations from the School of Journalism and Communication.
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