I was getting a mani/pedi recently, and she asked me if I wanted my usual scent for the foot scrub, which in my case is an amber scent. But for some reason that day I asked for the whole scent experience, which meant that she hit the button that laid down the chaise lounge I was in, put the warm and yummy fuzzy blanket on me, gave me a warmed neck pillow and covered my eyes with one of those quilted sleep thingies. Then she put three little bowls, one at a time, under my nose and asked me to pick one. I chose the second of three.

“Interesting,” she said. “We are getting more and more people choosing this scent—it’s going to take over as the most popular scent soon.”

I had picked geranium. Geranium. I have to admit that my first thought was “old fashioned” (with the emphasis on old). But ultimately I realized I felt, well, safe, which was an odd feeling during a spa treatment.

Over the next couple of months I would ask my friends about their trips to the spa, and oddly enough, more than half mentioned their scent choices changing. While only one had chosen geranium outright, the other changes were seemingly in line with what I had experienced—those who had changed recently had all changed to a floral scent, and all of them, with no prodding, spoke to wanting to feel cozier or sheltered. These scents made them feel nostalgic for simpler times. Now, this obviously isn’t in-depth research by any means, but their choices—and the language they used to describe them—speak to all of us wanting or needing something different in our lives. (more…)

American Express acquired a virtual currency platform and in-game payments provider Sometrics today.    Some-who?  Basically, here is what Sometrics does:  It’s in-game payments platform powers virtual currency transactions and payments for game publishers. On the flip side, it also serves users with targeted offers based on their location, demographic, conversion history and social affiliation.

It’s only a $30 million deal, so it might not get the attention it deserves.  But it is a big deal and here’s four reasons why.

First, it allows American Express to fully integrate and solidify their Serve digital payments platform. They have partnerships with carriers like Sprint and Verizon.  They have partnerships with gaming companies, but with Sometrics they now have the real and virtual payment platform. The gaming transaction circle wrapped up nice and tight.

Second, for incoming gamers, they now have Serve as a payment option, getting them into the American Express card member pathway.  And visa-versa–American Express members can now funnel their gaming payments through a trusted source.  And if you don’t think that’s a viable revenue stream, let’s look at one tiny, tiny example of gaming revenue:  20% of Facebook users, that’s about 150 million people, spend an average of $35 monthly on games. Then, in a truly apocalyptic move, all those Facebookers (Facebookites?) switch to Serve by American Express?  That’s about $5.25 billion dollars.  And, let’s say all gaming virtual currency is now funneled through Serve/Sometrics?  Just add another $836 million to the bottom line.  Not too shabby, not too shabby at all.

Third, worldwide total cards-in-force was reported at 94 million in the American Express Q2 results. Sometrics however currently reaches a total global audience of more than 225 million consumers.  I’m just sayin’.

Fourth and finally, it gets American Express into the virtual currency business.  Virtual currencies are real, with real economic and cultural impact. You’ve heard me talk about BitCoin before, which can also be termed a “community currency”, but there are many, many more.  In fact, the entire Virtual Currency industry has a total value of approximately $2.2 billion dollars.   And, better yet for American Express, most are associated with gaming.  And even better?  According to August, 2011 data from mobile analytics firm Flurry, more than two-thirds of mobile in-app purchases for games on iOS and Android go towards buying consumable items — and that, for the most part, means virtual currency.

They go on to say that this mimics many of the purchasing trends seen in other types of games, such as those on Facebook and an increasing number of MMOs — not to mention World of Warcraft.  To put that into perspective,  as of today,  the median price for 20,000 WoW (World of Warcraft) Gold is $48.8

And for the gamers themsevles, 2/3 of which prefer the pay-for-use model over the subscription model, it means a very easy experience with little to no gamus-interruptus. 

And that’s why I say, well played American Express.  Well Played.




This week in the Financial Post there was a story that lead with “Some of the world’s richest families are cutting their holdings in gold to take profits on the run-up in prices and are buying high-end art to preserve their wealth during market turmoil, an executive advising these families said.”

The story went on to say that , “Although liquidity has become more of a concern since the financial crisis, rich families are prepared to tie up some of their wealth long term in developing investment themes like farmland and forestry, as well as “lifestyle assets” like art.”

Ahh, yes. Discussions that surround the ‘market turmoil’, liquidity and investment ‘themes’ are de rigeur at our household. Of course the context at our table is vastly different than theirs. In our version of market turmoil we speak of no raises, nervously peeking at the 401Ks, and the up & down prices of gas, milk, veggies, etc. In our wider circle, market turmoil equates to the fact that back-to-school time coincided with the loss of a job, the loss of unemployment benefits and in Texas, extremely high electricity and water bills.

And our “investment themes”? At a recent dinner with some girlfriends, all of them moms, we lamented the fact that while none of us have purchased a piece of art in almost 2 years, we’ve all found a way to invest in our own version of lifestyle assets: music and art classes for our children, our own crafting and art passions, books and music.

Semi-jokingly I added that investments in the lifestyle assets holds both short and long-term risks and benefits to the family, and that while we don’t have an “executive adviser”, the conversations with my husband about the how, the when and the why’s for each are as detailed and torturous as when we bought a house.

Another friend adds “…there might be a bigger divide between the us and the them these days, but rich or poor, we are all having to decide how to deal with our money differently, decide what is most important to us and to figure out the f&@*!-up mess that is short and long-term financial planning.”

So, “Us and Them”? In all of the conversations I’ve had about this issue, none of the people ever thought they’d be on the serious down-side of that divide, yet they all agree that they are–and like about 47% of the US population, they don’t see it getting any better any time soon.

Part of the fall out from this belief is how people are reclassifying themselves as a way to cement the changes they have to make in their life. At the same dinner a friend put it this way.

“While I know the government and even myself, if I was being completely rational and logical about it, would say different, but my husband and I see ourselves as the ‘working poor’.” (Note: This family makes more than the current two-income household median income of about $64,000. But much less than the 17.8% who make about $118,000.) “Before 2008, we would have said “solid middle class”, but now we’ve downsized everything from house, to cars to the makeup I use, and we are still hurting at the end of the month. So, to keep us on track and fully vested in getting through this intact, we keep that label front and center as a stark reminder of the reality we face.”

While they might not take it as far, the majority of people I spoke with admit to labeling themselves in a lower economic classification than they did a year or three ago, with one saying, “…it’s just a safer, realistic viewpoint to have right now–especially when you keep seeing news stories about the middle class becoming extinct.”

On the other end of the financial spectrum it seems as if the same thing is happening. As I was working on a draft of this post at the greek wine bar, Opa in Austin, a gentleman asked me what I was working on. I gave him a brief sketch and after a moment of silence, he was ‘right there with us’.

“We are classified at the lower end of the top-1% in household income–well off by anyone’s standards– and yet I’m constantly telling my sons who are 14 and 9 that we are not rich, that we can’t do the things we did four or five years ago. Usually we go up to Hyatt Lost Pines for the last week before school starts and this year it felt like too big a chunk of change to spend right before all of the back-to-school costs. And every financial decision comes under that scrutiny now…that extra time it takes to ask yourself, do we really need this? Is there a cheaper option? Can I push this decision off til next month?”

We spoke some more, and then I thanked him for his openness and said that I needed to get going, that I had to run to the market to pick some stuff up. He laughed and said he had to run by Whole Foods on the way home as well, “…but i’m getting their house brands these days.”

Me too. Except my house brands come from HEB.

See, exactly the same, but different.

NOTE:  If references to specific womanly parts makes you uncomfortable, you might not want to read the following post.

So I was sitting in the theater this weekend with my daughter waiting for the last Harry Potter to begin and ignoring the pre-movie commercials when I heard something I rarely hear at this time…laughter, lots of it. I looked up and caught the end of a in-theater spot and a tag, ‘Hail to the V’. When the laughter subsided I asked the person next to me what the commercial was for and he blithely answered, “Summers Eve”.



I turned away, embarrassed and feeling like I did when I was 13 and ‘those type’ of commercials came on during family viewing time.

But he went on.

“Best commercial I’ve ever seen during the pre-movie time.”

His girlfriend/friend/wife/whatever chimed in, “It’s about time they started having fun with this subject”, about the same time my 8-year old daughter asked, “Mom, what’s the V”?

After agreeing with the wife/etc., I turned to my daughter and told her that “v was for vagina”.

The man next to me turned bright red and asked me, “Should you be telling her that?”

Classic, and telling.  There are so many tangents I could go off on here–but I’ll stick with the one most appropriate for this blog.

After watching the awesome  movie that was the end of the Potter series, I went home and dug into this whole “V” thing. (more…)

I’ve always been excited by ‘the future’. Not in the flagrantly personal style of the crystal-ball, but rather in the “it-barely-exists-on-the-fringe-now-but-it’s-so-cool-let’s-see-what-can-we-do-with-it” sense. As an example I would point you towards our foray into virtual worlds, exciting, but…as it’s still a bit painful for me, I’ll just stand far back and point in its general direction— (it’s all out there for you to find if you are interested).

Anywho, in the last few months I’ve run across three things that have captured my attention about the future, made me think and have created that happy-wiggly-puppy-dog feeling of excitement in how they all converge—they are: 11-year olds, Re-Urbanization and New Currency.

11-Year Olds and A Coming New Age
A few weeks ago my 11 year-old graduated from elementary school. Leading up to this, their teachers had gotten together and discussed every child, ultimately deciding what each would become in the future based on who they were now. It was an interesting look at what the future could be based upon the character and capabilities of barely-formed human beings. Bottom line is that if each 11 year-old in the world was like these here in Austin we will soon find ourselves transitioning from the Information Age to some sort of (for lack of a better name) Neo-Industrious Age. (more…)

This is a story of a new type of Customer Service, active within at least one aisle of one retailer–I call it Community Generated Customer Service.  It was fun to stumble upon, and I’m curious to see if I can find more of it.  I hope I do.  I hope you do to.

I admit it. I am a serial hobbyist, from painting to knitting with some bead work thrown in for good measure. While I’ve created some decent stuff in every phase, it wasn’t until I found embroidery (go figure) that I actually found something I was consistently good at.

Now, this new found strength doesn’t mean you won’t find me, eyes glazed over, wandering the aisles of various hobby stores, lost and without hope. Partially this is because a lot of the “big” hobby stores are woefully unorganized, overstuffed, understaffed Byzantine mazes of product.  And, based upon the 15 discussions I had with various customers within these same stores, the other reason is because it’s about a 50/50 shot in terms of getting a staff member who knows what they are talking about.  Which, I thought as I was wandering around the embroidery/cross-stich/knitting/something-to-do-with-felt aisle, is a big miss for them because with this recession, shopping at the higher-end specialty art stores has tumbled—almost 35% according to an specialty-store owner I talked to last week. (more…)

“A Girl and…” is a new monthly column where we take the time to find out about our fellow gsd&m’ers. These will be a little longer than a “typical” post (really, is there such a thing?) but hey, we’re all worth it right?  Take a few minutes and we’ll try to make it enjoyable.

Here’s the deal.  I had too good of a time talking Victor and Jake for it to be a true “interview”—one where I ask a bunch of questions and they answer them cleanly.  Between the beer, nachos and the laughing,  the conversation meandered in that wonderfully messy “good dinner-party” way where we talked over and under and around each other on topics ranging from beer to family to food to music to muses to baseball to Belgian fans (12 of them, specifically) and back again to beer.

But given this was technically an interview and it was by me, I (big surprise here) kicked it off by asking about their family.  From the broad hints and what wasn’t said I know there are some great stories from the Camozzi family tree that we didn’t get to, but what I did hear was clear—we’ve got two brothers, artists and co-workers with a solid understanding of exactly who they are.

Basically?  With the Camozzi brothers, no artifice allowed.

clip_image001Victor Camozzi (GCD/Writer) was named after his grandfather who was named after Victor Emanuele, King of Sardinia and then Italy. Father of two, singer/songwriter, and budding children’s author. Younger brother to two older sisters.

clip_image002Jake (Jacob) Camozzi, (ACD/Writer) soon to be father of one, younger brother to two older sisters and Victor. Home chef, home brewer and culinary writer at https://leavemetheoink.wordpress.com.


So, the 4A’s was in Austin this year and one of the big headlines coming out it was “Ad industry leaders say industry faces a talent crunch”.

Martin Roth, CEO of Interpublic, stated that “…without getting the talent issue right, we’re not going to be able to survive in the marketplace going forward,” he said. “We all know the future of our business is based on talent.”

Weeeelllll, I’m not so sure it’s that easy, regardless of whether you have a “Chief Talent Officer” or not. (Cheap shot alert, sorry.)   Yes, talent is a part of it, but not all of it.  Rather, I think there are three areas we have to think about: (more…)

Every year over the Labor Day weekend I cross paths with a large variety of friends, neighbors and family members that happen to cover a very wide socio-economic spectrum. We do the typical things, have the typical chats (especially among those visits that come once a year) and generally have a grand experience. This time though, there was a little something different thrown in: from BBQ’s to skype chats, from book stores to museums and from taco stands to thai food, I kept running across the same story, albeit from different mouths.

They all started the same way ….“Because we didn’t want to spend the money”…or something along those lines.

And, they all ended the same way… “it’s something we look forward to doing (again) after the recession”.

I really shouldn’t have been surprised as the long-tail of the “Great Recession” is hitting us hard. According to the July, 2010 Economic Security Index, 20% of Americans households are facing “utter economic devastation” . This means that there are approximately 62 million Americans “completely out of money, with jobs, savings and retirement funds gone and nowhere to turn for the next dollar”. And, looking at the ESI research as well as new Pew research this group, which includes some of the 23% of Americans who took a significant pay cut in the past two years, will take anywhere between 6 and 8 years to recover to the pre-recession levels of financial security.

And as studies have shown, the long term effects of a recession are ridiculously numerous—from the lifetime barriers the newly emerging work force will face to crumbling family dynamics to the trickle down ‘negenomics’ and a changed consumerism. But it’s always easier to understand the effects of anything when you put a human face on it all. And that’s where we come in on these stories—the personal changes and choices of consumerism by people, whether it is not spending, of not choosing one brand over the other, choosing no brand at all or of finding new ways to spend. More interesting though than the fiscal shifts, is how each group saw themselves, saw the changing event and saw the value in the changes they’d made. And even more interesting? If, or how, these changes and the value seen in the changes will evolve as we either head back towards pre-recession financial security or find ourselves in the midst of a double-dip.

First, the Shopping Trip Redux: In the past, this close group of friends, around 10 ladies, go to New York over Labor Day weekend to go shopping for the upcoming Winter season.  Their husbands are at home boating, golfing, etc. and for the women, this is part foodie girls trip, part serious shopping trip. They’ve been known to bring large empty trunks with them to ship their new clothes home. This year though only the three best shoppers are going (all are paying for the trip) and those three are taking much shorter, but seriously complicated lists with them for the other 7. Seriously, these lists look like a con-joint study: If the Manolos are less than X, then get the Aimee and Marie (Aussie designer?) black dress in a size 6, but only if the Cor or Asso soaps are not available. Secondly, this group has started a combined savings program at Smarty Pig for those items they can get later, they buy in bulk, they can get online, or they can’t afford right now. Finally, the three that are going have to take pictures and detailed notes on anything they think the ones left at home will like in place of something on their list, and this information is sent home daily so that they can rework the lists vicariously and get back to the shoppers before the shopping continues. The ones at home are on sites like Rue La La, looking for the good deals for all of them—and then adding them to the SmartyPig list. Finally, they’ll have a big viewing party during Fashion Week so they can all be together looking at fashion and talking about it like they always do…it’ll just be from a couch as opposed to an aisle at Bergdorfs. As one said in the midst of all this craziness, “…we used to have fun being there in NY taking our fashion seriously, but this time, we’ll each get a few pieces and the rest we’ll just look at and sigh…”.

Next, A Very Different Las Vegas. Three couples go there almost every year for a birthday. This year, driving instead of the flying, the Sahara over the Bellagio, Merlin over the Beatles. Which seems on trend, generally. Visitation is supposed to be up 2.8% this weekend over last year, and has been up about 2% since June. But once there, spending is radically different, in fact, gaming revenues fell to $4.5 billion in the year ended June 30, down 7.9% from the previous year and nearly 23% over three years.v And the three couples stayed on trend…typically a group that combines black jack and roulette, this year, like many others, they went a little different and struck the penny slots hard. “We worked those machines like no one’s business…it was fun. We’d play, go watch the black jack and roulette tables, then go back and hit the penny slots some more. We stayed together, played longer and laughed harder”. Other’s seem to be doing the same: gamblers who played penny slot machines produced about one-fourth of all slot machine revenue in Nevada last year, and more in other states. In Missouri, one of few states where gambling revenue rose in 2008, more than half of all casino revenue came from penny slots. For many casinos, penny slots are producing the only kind of revenue that’s rising. One couple summed it up nicely with the husband stating, “I surprised myself. I always had fun playing black jack, but it was different this time sitting at the tables, I couldn’t get comfortable with the amount of money on the table and that I was part of it. I had more fun with my wife at the penny slots.” The wife kicked in at that point, “…watching other people play with big money was just as fun for me this time…I don’t know if I’ll go back to playing myself it seems silly in light of it all.”

Lastly, The Big Trade Off. This is a family of six—four teen girls and two parents. He’s had his hours cut, so he added another job. She’s kept her hours, but took a pay cut and her benefits for the family are more expensive this year. After a really difficult family meeting before school started this year, the girls voted on what they’d like to spend their back to school budget on. Surprising their parents, the girls chose technology over clothes, specifically updated phones and even more specifically, the new iphone. According to Michael Mandel, former chief economist at Business Week and current editor of Visible Economy, this is not surprising. He wrote on August 9th or so about US consumer spending trends in a post on his website titled “Where Americans Are Spending More,” where he showed that Americans do have a bit of ‘thing’ for mobile devices, where spending has soared almost 17% since the recession started whereas spending on clothing and other items continues to trend down. When their mother told them not to come back to them with requests for clothes, the girls took matters into their own hands: first having a hand-me down party amongst themselves, and then amongst larger group of friends and family members. Then to boost their “new” clothes, the girls took advantage of a community clothing swap at the local elementary school where they found both items to add to their closets and manned sewing machines ready to take up, take in or let out or let down. As a family there was sense of accomplishment, a feeling that they got together, made decisions well and tried new things. For the girls they were surprised at how well this worked for them—and their parents. Anna (named changed) who is 16, said it best, “We got the best of both worlds…people can see that we have the same phone that everyone else has and then we had a chance to get new clothes that we were able to play with to make ‘mine’…I didn’t look like everyone else on the first day of school…they all did, they looked exactly the same with the same clothes on and for the first time I saw how that looked and I was excited to look different. And a lot of people liked what I had done with the clothes. It was cool and we did the right thing.” Some may say that value is the new black, but that’s too easy in some ways. I think the real, ‘new black’ is the higher awareness we have of the choices we each face, the trade-offs and the sacrifices made when it comes to our finances now and as we face what comes in comparison to how we acted before and how those around us are acting.

I had a boss once that told me that advertising is more ditch digging than brain surgery, meaning that it’s more about the hard work than the brain work. To a not-that-thoughtful 20-something it sounded good, especially when I got to say it (egads), so I went with it. 

More than a few years into this crazy world that I love, I realize that I completely and unreservedly disagree.  Bollocks!, I say to the idea that what we provide is more about the sweat we put into it than the smarts. 

And bollocks on behalf of all of the people who put work together like Arcade Fire and The Wilderness Downtown to the Old Spice Guy to (insert your favorite VW ad here), to the campaigns we just presented to our client Southwest Airlines and the upcoming augmented reality project for the U.S. Air Force. These are all examples of thoughtful, interesting work that took a lot of hard work to get done and done right. I think that is one of the reasons I like the work I do here—as a collective at Idea City we do whatever it takes to build our clients business, which means that I work with a bunch of people pushing and thinking and sweating all day everyday to get it right.  And at the end of the day, or the end of the project, there is great satisfaction in that—the sore muscles, fully contented, sitting, having a beer and surveying your work on a hot day satisfaction we can all appreciate. 

 So in celebration of good thinking and hard work, I share this sculpture by Korean artist Gwon Osang. They are made from hundreds of photographs of the original subjects, overlayed onto life-sized mannequins to create an effect which is both realistic and surreal at the same time. If you want to see more of this amazing work, go to www.lostateminor.com and look under the design tab.