Thursday, February 12, 2015

27. Typography

I've always loved typography. Reading books and magazines, I often find myself much more drawn to the design and font choices rather than to the actual content. I'm a visual person, so whenever I see something nicely designed, I will be more likely to read it, and vice versa. No matter how great a story is, poor design makes it less enjoyable. Sadly, I'm not a graphic designer. I can tell if something looks esthetically 'right', but it's always been difficult for me to design something from scratch. So this time I decided to challenge myself and take a typography workshop with Steven Asbury from Asbury Design. In just one weekend, I learned so much about the history of various typefaces and the basic rules of typography. Practice was the most engaging part though! Here are my two little projects I designed in the course of the worskshop:

For this first exercise, we needed to pick our favorite quote and design it using a combination of two typefaces.

And for the second one, each of us was given a certain typeface, and we had to research its history and then design a story about it, using just that typeface, of course. Mine was Bodoni, and considering its Italian ancestry, I went for a mafia-style poster.

Maybe these don't look super professional, but I'm excited to practice more in the near future. I love the process, and that's what's most important, right?

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

26. Eulogy

DISCLAIMER: This fictitious eulogy for Forever 21 is based on my personal experience with the brand. No offense intended.

The dark time has come – Forever 21 is gone now. It just passed away, but it will always stay in our hearts. We will always remember how great it was. Whenever you walked into the store, it always looked so polished and organized. Just a few rows with hangers – that’s all you needed to experience its magnitude. There were never any lines at Forever 21. Of course, not many people could afford such deluxe shopping, but the few that could surely enjoyed its unhampered and personalized atmosphere. And everything was so perfectly ironed, neat, and clean – not even a spot, not a tiny stain on its luxurious fabrics! In fact, Forever 21’s quality management was so unprecedented that they would always carefully inspect every single item to make sure that no damaged merchandise was on display. 

Talking about quality, even Chanel faded in comparison. No designer in the world used rarer and more expensive materials. And with what precision and dedication all its clothing articles were handcrafted! You could get only unique, one-of-a-kind sweatshop-free items at Forever 21, and all of them would fit like a glove. The highest-paid Chinese fashion designers worked on them for months, hand sewing them using golden threads and embroidering exquisite ornaments onto their surface. No one in the world will ever be able to recreate these articles. Their secret died with Forever 21.

There should be something special said about the customer service that Forever 21 provided. All customers were treated like gods – sales representatives would always run around them, catering to their every need. And whenever anyone had a problem or had to return something, they would always make a sincere apology and go out of their way to return the full amount paid in cash, even for jewelry and sale items. On top of that, they would even add a coupon to make the customer happy. No other living brand in the world has ever treated its customers better than Forever 21 did.

Of course, it will be hard for all of us to live in this world knowing that Forever 21 is not here any longer. It was a terrible, untimely death, but we will never forget how much value Forever 21 had brought into our lives. It will stay in our hearts forever. Amen.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

25. Merry Baskin

Image via
Merry Baskin, who can be considered one of the best account planners in the world, visited our university this week. I was lucky enough to go to both of her presentations and attend a discussion-based meeting with her. Merry has extensive experience working in the advertising industry, and her advice to us - young communications professionals and aspiring account planners - is more than valuable, especially on the threshold of graduation.
Mr. Nosey, book cover

According to Merry, the prototype of a great strategist is Mr. Nosey - a fictitious character, who is always snooping around in other people's lives. As a planner, you have to be endlessly curious, maybe to the point where other people think you're weird. Going shopping? Don't forget to check out other people's shopping carts and follow them around, analyzing their shopping and buying preferences. Insights are everywhere, you just have to look for them.

Besides being curious, a good planner must have great listening skills, and empathy lies at their core. You have to be able be "put yourself in your consumer's shoes." And then walk in them. Only this way you can truly understand this person's feelings and experiences, which is the foundation for any great strategy. In fact, a good planner should know (despite what the client may say) that brands belong to consumers, not brand owners, so understanding your consumer is key here.

Most strategies can be divided into two categories: rational and emotional. It would be intuitive to say that a strategy must be rational, but it turns out that those advertising campaigns that utilize emotional strategies are more successful on average. People are highly emotional and most of the time irrational in their actions. Think about this: when shopping, you fall in love with a beautiful pair of shoes. Do you weigh all the pros and cons BEFORE you buy it or do you post-rationalize your purchase AFTER you buy it? Most people do the second, which proves that we are more emotional than rational, and as strategists, we should be aware of that. "It's all about an emotional response," as Merry puts it.
Image via
As the owner of Baskin Shark, a brand planning and training consultancy, Merry claims that "like a shark, brands must move forward or die." As we know, sharks need to keep moving to be able to breathe. Similarly, brands need to be constantly evolving to keep up with the changing world and people's attitudes. That's why staying on top of culture and current trends is so important for an account planner.

One more interesting thing that Merry suggested everyone should do is take the Myers-Briggs personality test, like this one here. Self-awareness is very important in this business (actually, in any). The better you understand yourself, the better you know how to build stronger relationships with people, the better you know how to deal with problems. According to the test, I am the ISTJ type (Introverted, Sensing, Thinking, Judging), aka "the duty fulfiller" or "the inspector." Can't but agree with that. While I'm figuring out my strengths and weaknesses, take this test to learn more about yourself! (You can read about each personality type here and here).

Friday, May 16, 2014

24. NYC 2014 Overview

May 5 - May 10 was the most exciting, adventurous, and productive time of my life. I went to New York with a group of other students from the University of Oregon to explore famous advertising agencies and learn from the most talented people in the industry. I visited seven amazing agencies and gained a lot from this experience. I will talk more about that in my future posts (hopefully starting this weekend), but here's a brief overview for now:

Saturday, February 22, 2014

23. Communication in the 19th Century: the Telegraph

I'm currently taking a communication history class, and almost every lecture of it is like a little discovery for me. I had never studied the history of American journalism in so much detail, but I think it is particularly important to do so for anyone going into the field of mass communication. How did the present condition of the industry come into being? Are the ideas we are talking about now really new? How can we assess the present using comparisons with the past? How can we think critically about contemporary media? Studying communication history may help answer these questions.

During our last lecture we talked about communication in the 19th century and its highlights - the telegraph, yellow journalism, stunt reporting, and muckracking. These were very important for the development of communication, so I'd like to talk briefly about each of them. This post is going to be about a revolutionary invention:

The Telegraph
Image via
Developed by Samuel Morse in 1837 in the United States, this invention became truly groundbreaking. It allowed people to send and receive messages nearly instantaneously - it only took a couple minutes for a message to arrive. Before that, national news were delivered via railroads, horses, and pigeons, while international news could only be delivered via ships, which took weeks to cross the ocean. The speed of mass communication was extremely slow, so the telegraph became a turning point in this sense, connecting people as nothing else could at that time.

Abraham Lincoln. Image via
The first telegraph line connected Washington, D.C. and Baltimore in 1844, and the telegraph service expanded rapidly in the next couple of decades. During the Civil War, the telegraph became a tool of Lincoln's leadership, allowing him to directly and actively communicate with the front. He used the telegraph as an information gathering tool as well a medium for counseling on strategy and giving commands.
Cyrus Field. Image via
But probably the most important achievement of the telegraph era was the transatlantic cable, laid by businessman Cyrus Field. It was supposed to connect North America and Europe; however, Field's first attempt in 1858 failed to establish stable communication between the continents. After several unsuccessful attempts, he was finally able to permanently connect the two worlds in 1866, and the contact hasn't been broken ever since. Even today, most communication between America and Europe is still carried via the transatlantic cable, while the telephone, radio, TV, and the Internet are all modern extensions of the telegraph. The famous telecommunications company AT&T still carries  it in its title as it was founded as the American Telephone and Telegraph Company in 1885.

The invention of the telegraph brought many changes to the life of people and journalism in particular:

  • It made the postal service less important, as news no longer had to rely on physical transportation.
  • It altered newspaper content and style. With the adoption of the telegraph for gathering news, newspapers introduced the inverted pyramid style (which is still used today), where the most important information was placed at the top, in the lead paragraph, with the least important information at the bottom of an article. See its principle in the picture below.
Image via

  • The telegraph mechanized and standardized news gathering, allowing newspapers to cut down their staff.
  • Newspapers shifted their emphasis from literary stories to hard news.
  • Newspapers had to cooperate to gather and distribute news. In 1856 five daily NYC newspapers formed the Associated Press(AP) that still exists today. It was founded as a way of cooperation for gathering unbiased news and selling it to other papers.  Today, it is one of the largest nonprofit news organizations in the world.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

22. Gendered Toy Advertising

Image via Ms. Magazine Blog
Nowadays, toy marketing and advertising are extremely gendered and reinforce certain gender roles and stereotypes that do not promote equality. In toy ads, girls are usually portrayed performing traditional roles, like babysitting, housekeeping, or caring for their own looks, while boys are usually presented in stereotypically masculine roles, playing with toys that require more logic, action, and sometimes aggression.

These ads from a recent Toys "R" Us catalog are a good illustration of the problem.

The first ad portrays a girl playing with dolls in a pink dollhouse, and the other one has two boys in it playing with a complex train construction they have assembled. The girls’ ad suggests that girls should perform traditionally feminine roles, such as babysitting and housekeeping, whereas boys need to play with something more masculine that requires more logic, like construction. Besides, the color scheme used in the ads (pink for girls and primarily blue and green for boys) reinforces this idea of gender confrontation. The next two pages from the catalog also arrange toys by gender - the pink page containing dolls targets girls, while the blue page with “action-packed toys” targets boys.

Most toy advertisements convey messages about gender roles and expectations through certain kinds of toys and their color, implying what is or isn't appropriate for boys and girls. But the fact is, kids' personalities and interests differ, so it's just wrong to limit their choices by stereotyping and differentiating between boys and girls when advertising/marketing toys. This kind of stereotyping is problematic because it doesn't capture the possibility that boys and girls might want to play with other kinds of toys and prefer other colors. Check out the video below to get the idea:


As most children conform to those gender stereotypes and roles promoted in the media, it makes them express their intolerance towards those children who express cross-gender behaviors, which puts such children at risk of discrimination and possible bullying. Also, toys may influence children’s future career decisions. Girls’ toys, like dolls, usually lack complexity, which doesn’t help girls develop the skills necessary for technical professions, like engineering. Boys’ toys, on the other hand, usually involve more thinking, which trains their logic, thus better preparing them for STEM fields. This kind of gendered marketing limits children’s choices, impacts their development, and fails to create equal opportunities. 

Advertisers play a big role in influencing children’s beliefs about gender roles, and that’s why it’s important that the messages they spread are reasonable and fair. Advertisers should create gender-neutral ads that treat all children equally and not limit their choices, imagination, or self-expression based on their gender. 

There are, in fact, a few companies that are trying to step away from the strictly binary gender system and go gender-neutral in their toy advertising. The most prominent example is the Swedish toy retailer Top Toy, which has been promoting gender equality in the toy industry since 2012. The most recent contributor is the American company Goldie Blox. It was founded in 2012 with a mission to "disrupt the pink aisle and inspire the future generation of female engineers." Their latest commercial portrays girls as active, creative, and ingenious little inventors, ready to break all gender stereotypes. 

However, even though there is some progress happening in the toy industry, there is much more to be done in regard to the issue.

For more information on the topic, you are welcome to check out my research paper here.

Monday, December 9, 2013

21. Cultural Awareness

Cultural awareness is extremely important in the field of mass communication. To be a successful idea generator and communicator, one needs to be culturally competent, which involves learning about various cultures via different channels (TV, films, music, social media, reading, etc.), being respectful of diversity and other people’s viewpoints, and paying attention to social and cultural trends happening around the world. For our final group project, we designed this book that serves as a guide for current and future advertising, as well as other journalism students, providing them with the information on the role of cultural awareness in communication and advice on what they should watch, read, listen to, and do to become familiar with more cultures, traditions, and beliefs and to successfully use this knowledge for relevant and effective communication to diverse audiences.

Check it out!