gapingvoid is interested in start-up culture, because changing business for the better is what we’re about; that’s what Social Object Factory is about. We live and breathe it; we help everyone from lone entrepreneurs, to mid-sizers, to Fortune 500’s do the same. Check out our work here.
We create art that helps companies kick ass, end of story.
As longtime fans of artist Hugh MacLeod and his work, it was a no-brainer for us to ask him to create custom sticker packs to be used in messaging. Here, Hugh chats with us about his work, his inspirations, and his creative collaboration with Path.
Q: Among other things, you’re known as a blogger, a marketer, and a cartoonist. Tell us a bit about the road to the career you have carved out for yourself. When did you first begin creating/drawing?
A: I drew cartoons in college, then got a day job in advertising. I landed a job in NY, and one night just started drawing cartoons on the back of business cards. I’ve often written about the power of ‘small art’. I get to create with little risk, put ideas out there and see what happens. It’s really an art form that parallels marketing. Pushing ideas out and seeing what happens.
I drifted off into blogging territory once the Internet came along. In 2004, I met my business partner, Jason Korman, who showed me that my art form could have real business applications. Off we went, and the rest is history. Q: What are a few adjectives that you would use to describe your work?
A: Adjectives and phrases: Inspirational, Subversive, Culturally Relevant, Honest, Transparent, Real, The Voice of Contemporary Business.
Q: Where do you seek inspiration (other contemporary artists, publications, friends, etc.)?
A: Most of my inspiration comes from people watching. This is what made my years in New York so wonderful. The artists who inspire me the most are composers and musicians. Visual artists inspire me less. I am a voracious reader.
Above all, I am a keen observer of business and entrepreneurship. I love big enterprise. It is a stage where people play out every form of human behavior. I am always looking for what motivates people. Why people really get out of bed in the morning, and how can I help communicate what really matters. Business people think that business is about making money. At it’s core, it isn’t – the money flows from doing other stuff really well. Usually the better you do it, the more you make. If you understand human behavior, human needs, you can accomplish anything you want in business. I help real leaders do that.
Q: How did you become interested in marketing? How important is good marketing to the contemporary artist?
A: Marketing at its core is just about human behavior. As I said above, I am a student of human behavior. You can have focus groups, you can survey, or you can read my cartoons. The latter is just as insightful and a lot cheaper
I believe that there is a special place for art in business. Art allows for expression that transcends ‘normal’ business communication. One reason why enterprise marketers are panicky these days, is because there is no such thing as ‘normal’ anymore. I’ve found that by using art, I can have discussions at work, that would be really hard to have otherwise.
To answer your question directly, I challenge anyone to name a famous artist who lived within the last hundred years who wasn’t a good marketer. There might be a few, but post 1960, there are almost none.
Q: Tell me a bit about the experience and creative exchange working with Path. Why did you agree to this collaboration?
A: Dave Morin, the CEO and founder of Path, is a long time fan and collector of my work. Dave is one of the guys in the tech world that I really admire. He’s got vision and strength, a good combination. I also like the idea of social where you aren’t talking to the world. God knows, I spend much of my life talking to the world. But, there are times when I just want to see what my closest family and friends are up to. I like the way Path is a proxy for what’s really important.Q: Talk about the sticker packs you created for us. How did “the Best” and the “The Worst” come to be?
A: In social media, we love sharing both the stuff we really like (The Best) and the stuff we really hate (The Worst) with our friends. The two extremes are the bookends of our lives. Friends sharing their lifestream is of course one of Path’s most important functions, so I wanted to make stickers that made it easier and/or more fun to do so.
Q: How do you envision/what is your hope for how your work is used in Path messaging?
A: I just want people to have random fun with them. Random fun is the best kind. The “usefulness” comes later…
Q: Has the experience working with Path differed from any other commissioned work you’ve done in the past?
A: I’m often producing work for clients who aren’t certain how they are going to use it. This often creates anticipation on my part that is unmet. I like that.
One other point that really mattered: Since I am used to working in small spaces, my ‘normal’ canvas is 3.5 × 2 INCHES. So, I am really comfortable working in tiny spaces. Most artists aren’t, and this is why working in a postage stamp sized space actually felt good.
Aside from that, Path was really great to work with, Jenny Ji, Path’s Design Director, was a joy, and let us get on with our work. I say this mainly because not all clients are so nice to deal with, or respectful of the process.
Q: Any advice to budding cartoonists?
A. 1. Practice every day, regardless. 2. Embrace the web. 3. Most cartooning business models suck, so try to invent a new one. 4. Be the most tenacious SOB in the history of the planet.
As you know, we pay our bills by selling prints and tee shirts of our art (along with a lot of cool animation and corporate work). I wanted to let you know that we recently set up gapingvoid on the Linkshare network (an affiliate program) so that our friends with blogs and websites can actually benefit directly (by earning commissions) from helping to spread the gapingvoid word.
If you are already part of the Linkshare network you can easily search for “gapingvoid art” and request to be added as a publisher. If you are not yet part of Linkshare you can sign up here for free.
As you are a special friend of gapingvoid, we’d be happy to prepare any custom banners for you and your audience, or work with you to create a really special offer just for your community. Just let us know. In any event, it would be an honor and awesome to have you as a gapingvoid affiliate. If you want any additional info about the affiliate program, feel free to contact Jason or Jeff. Me? I’ll be drawing.
In this episode of the Gape Into The Void Podcast Hugh and Jason have a chance to catch up with Internet phenomenon, Gary Vaynerchuk, a long-time friend of gapingvoid. If you don’t know Gary, you should. He’s an incredibly smart, dynamic and outgoing personality, and most of all he’s an incredible salesman.
Thanks again for listening. If you are enjoying Gape Into The Void, please tell your friends and leave us a review on iTunes. If you have any questions or topics you want us to cover on the show email us at podcast at gapingvoid.com.
We launced a new podcast– “Gape Into The Void”. A behind-the-scenes look at gapingvoid.
Episode One is me and my business partner, Jason Korman, yakkin’ about how we got started working together, eight years ago and the how and the why of what we’re doing now etc. !5 minutes long. Rock on. [Subscribe here.]
It was a little twelve word copy competition. We thought we’d get 20 or 30 entries. But ended up with well over 200, a great result and a giant “thank you” to everyone for entering.
Once we compiled the comments and emails, judging began. Hugh put together his short list, Laura did hers, Jeff put in his five cents, even intern Darrick piped in.
And then, what started as a bit of fun, turned into a free-for-all. Kicking, screaming, name calling. Everyone had their favorite, and no one agreed.
Tumult aside, we’ve decided to change the rules. Since there were so many entries, it seemed fair that there will be more winners: Three to be exact. And, you guys get to decide the ranking. Just watch the vids above, leave your comments below and we’ll compile and announce later this month.
Regardless of who comes out on top, all finalists will get a framed, signed print of their choosing (conditions apply), and more importantly, the credits which will be seen by millions of people. The winners lives will be transformed and they will be showered with internet riches beyond their wildest dreams, etc., etc., etc.
To make voting easy, we had our crack team create animations with each of the finalists’ tag lines. Watch them and tell us your choice for the king of all exploding head tag lines!”.
Hugh drew today’s cartoon in connection with a talk earlier this year for the members of socialmedia.org, Andy Sernovitz’s great cabal of social media heavy weights.
It’s a cute little reminder that no matter how big your business is, your business is not really all you want to be talking about on social channels. It’s the idea of brand as platform. Finding interesting aligned ideas to talk about. The challenge is to create lots of cool stuff to launch into your social networks through your brand.
Take a look at the logo on the bottom right of the image. It’s the logo of Social Object Factory, our new little startup, still in beta, which is in the business of making those cannon balls. Little morsels of powerful content that will explode out of your social channels spreading mojo everywhere. YAY!!!
Yes, now you can have gapingvoid cool to deliver to all your peeps
To those who don’t know us well, gapingvoid just appears to be in the business of selling Hugh’s cool illustrations. Over the years, Hugh and I have gone through the often-tortuous self examination required in the journey of finding our true purpose. Nearly every day asking ourselves: “What can one do with a cartoon?”
Thanks to our friend, Mark Earls, we think a lot about the notion of Purpose Idea, and spend a lot of time helping clients wrestle with the beast as well.
So, we have come up with our purpose, and much of it is around the idea of inspiring others.
Here is an excerpt of what we consider our Purpose – note that it is a work in progress, and always subject to change as we grow, morph and reinvent ourselves.
*We live in incredible times.
*Every single person on this earth has the capacity to make a difference… the ability to lead, and leave their mark.
*Every business is driven by forces far more powerful and profound than money.
*We help businesses discover and articulate their purpose
*We help people make a difference,
*We help leaders lead
*We help businesses kick butt.
*We create social objects that transform organizations, start conversations, and spread ideas at lightning speed.
*We live in incredible times, and as long as there is one person on this earth who does not agree, there is still work to be done.
[One of the Dewars drawings I did while attending TED Global etc.]
[Today’s guest post is by Jason Korman, my business partner since 2005, and CEO of gapingvoid]
“The Market For a Scotch to believe in is Infinite”
There are millions of cases at stake for the guys who get the messaging right.
We’ve had Scotch on the brain lately. We’ve done wine, we’ve done suits and we’ve done tech, but Scotch has its own particular set of challenges.
What makes any bottle of scotch different? And, does anyone care, anyway? There are, what Hugh’s dad used to call, the “whiskey bores” who drone on and on about all things whisky, but I’m told there aren’t that many of them left. So, what matters to everyone else?
There is the realm of the single malts and high end scotches. But they seem to need to be marketed more like Congac or Champagne, a bit of bling, sexy packaging, and hyped up associations.
For more broad market Scotch, the opportunities are much greater and the challenge much more complex. Scotch is a distinctly masculine product. It is strong, it is interesting, is implies thought and intelligence. It s a product that wants to have meaning.
Given that, what we see mostly in Scotch marketing is a reliance on ‘authenticity’, with everyone trying to have the most authentic conversation grounded in centuries of history. The question is really: is this relevant? Once a consumer knows your Scotch is ‘for real’, do they care enough to want to know the details? I’d guess, probably not.
With alcoholic beverages, what you do have is a desire from the market to want to know: Why? What do you stand for? Why do you exist? And does your brand represent something that I believe in — does it share my world view.
J&B says, “Let’s Start a Party”. I know that they are trying to make an old brand younger and relevant. But, OMG, does it seem disingenuous. It comes across as a little inconsistent with what the product is about. It’s not tequila, its not vodka, it’s really NOT a party drink. It feels like granny dancing on the table at your cousin’s wedding – kinda cringeworthy and creepy. Oh, and in an acknowledgement that even they don’t buy into the party thing, they also tell the story about Mr. Justerini traveling from Bologna to London in 1749. Not sure what they’re thinking, but stream of consciousness brings me to paraphrase the Artist Formerly Known as Prince… “Let’s party like its 1749″.
Chivas goes with “Live with Chivalry”, and tells “The Story Behind the Legend”. It’s place centric, it’s a nice story about a Scotsman traveling to NY a hundred years ago. But, it sounds a lot like things we’ve heard before. More importantly, they seem unconcerned with relevance in 2011. Their ultra-produced videos are like Public Service Announcements, urging people to be nice. Yawn.
As with both of the above, Dewars goes with the place centric, authentic Scottish thing, so they cover that base. But it feels like a brand that wants more. Their messaging is really very ‘of the moment’ and involves people who are actually alive today — It focuses on the top bit of Maslow’s hierarchy. They want to find people and facilitate people being self– actualized. The message is, as beings we are happier doing things that we believe in.
A bright spark at Dewars had the idea of aligning with the TED conferences. After all, Ted’s speakers do, by definition, embody the qualities that Dewars represents.
Enter Hugh. They also hired Hugh to draw at TED Edinburgh and distill the speakers ideas into his style of illustration. Hugh likes to say that his goal is to draw a cartoon that rips your face off the first time you see it, and is still doing it and the tenth time.
One of those is posted above.
We ask ourselves: Is Hugh’s style too edgy, too disruptive, not art directed enough, to be used in main stream media? How can a brand like Dewars better communicate what it stands for than through one of Hugh’s cartoons?
In today’s world, where everyone is saying advertising is dead, what they are really saying that advertising the way it used to be done is dead. Giving people something they believe in, in a way that they can’t help but notice, is where the action really is. Getting noticed. Doing stuff that gets noticed, doing it smart, and in a way that your audience will think is cool, is where its at. Have beliefs that are strong enough to build a movement, not just a brand.
We’ve got Scotch on the brain, and we’re liking it. A category ripe for disruption.
“South-By” is pretty much over for the year. So what’s next?
gapingvoid is having its first “Evil Plans” salon on Wednesday evening, the 23rd of March at 7.30pm, just under a week from now. Downtown Miami.
It will be limited to 15 people. The theme of the evening will be “Unifying work and love”, a subject very dear to pretty much every gapingvoid reader alive.
If you’re in town that evening and want to attend, please RSVP my business partner, Jason Korman, for a slot: email@example.com. He’ll send you the details. Thanks.
This is going to be the start of something– something big, I hope. As much as I love SXSW, it’s gotten too big, Austin is too far away and it’s only on once a year.
I want to do something cool in Miami, about once a month. Something meaningful. Something where the cool kids can hang out and meet each other. A very miniature mini-conference, as it were, centered around our collective #EvilPlans. Rock on…
Troy said that they wanted their 3,800+ agents to build stronger ties with their communities and also engage other employees who the company want to have a voice and share in the new vision for the business.
AmFam has a very particular market: Local communities in eighteen states in the West and Midwest, selling home and life policies to middle income families. For their local insurance agents, community is everything and the stronger their ties, the better their business– it’s that simple.
With this in mind, the goal was to have 50% of all agents online, using at least Facebook, but hopefully some other tools by year’s end.
If you think about it, its hard to imagine a more elegant use of tools like Facebook for building business.
On our side, Hugh’s goal was to create a ‘conversation starter’ – something that would, on the face of it, explain to the digitally uninitiated (a) why they should make developing online connections, a top priority, and b) remind the reps what building THEIR business is really all about. The solution ultimately was two drawings: “Business is Connectivity” above, and “We’re not in the insurance business, We’re in the Connection Business”, below.
A few weeks ago, I checked back in with Troy to see how things were going. For Troy, he wanted to nudge along a Smarter Conversation on a number of fronts and had a plan that not only called for the organic spread of the Cube Grenades through the business, but also, one that was an overt, front and center challenge to the culture of the business. As Troy said, his goal was to ‘Nudge the culture Forward’ i.e. “To Change the culture from Sales Orientation to one of Customer Orientation,”
After commissioning the Cube Grenade, AmFam, put up an exhibit of about a dozen of Hugh’s more inspiring works. They included: Intoxicated, X,Y,Z and the clean version of “Quality”. The exhibition was put up in a “bold location” in their headquarters in Madison, where it would be seen by all the employees over the period it was up.
While the spread of the Cube Grenades is happening. People are printing them out, and putting them on their email signatures, the art exhibition really got people’s attention, and not in the way that was originally planned.
A lot of attention was focused on the “Quality” image, one of Hugh’s most popular cartoons, and one that was redrawn in a Safe for Work mode for software giant, SAP, earlier this year. It seems that in Madison, Wisconsin, “Fricking”, is not yet quite Safe for Work, so it provoked a lot of ‘discussion’ about the appropriateness of the piece. However, this was the opening that Troy wanted. He turned the conversation into what the idea of “Frickin’ Amazing” means to a company like American Family, and ultimately, he had is objective in the crosshairs: “Customer Service”.
As Troy says “ Nobody starts the day thinking that they will give bad customer service, but it’s the culture that makes the difference as to whether it gets delivered,” he continued, “Everyone says that they have Customer Service, and many do, but Customer Service is not simply top down, it is how everyone actually acts, as opposed to aspires to act.”
And therein lied the rub, and the notion of having a “Smarter Conversation” internally about Customer Service, what’s wrong with it, and how to make it “Totally Frickin’ Amaxing”, and more importantly, how do you create a culture that supports people taking the risks necessary to deliver ‘Totally Fricking Amazing Service”. Creating that internal dialogue is not something that happens by itself, but if the goal is to nudge along the culture of an 8,000 person business, disruption is the order of the day.
We’ll be checking back in with Troy to see how things are progressing. But as Troy says, “The Connectivity Cube Grenade is about reminding people at HQ that the business is out in small communities, which is the heart of their business’ and whether the folks are on the front line, or in the call center in Madison, every voice is part of the brand, and everyone makes a difference.”
What can I say? It was a blast. Everybody seemed to have a great time. More than one person came up to me and said it was a lot more fun than any art opening they’d ever been to. You can see what people are saying on Twitter (for the time being, anyway) by following the #purplecow hashtag…
Thanks to Seth Godin for being such a gracious co-host, thanks to everybody who helped out, thanks to everybody who came along for it.
A special big thanks to Martha Burzynski, Carlo Balistrieri, and Cecilia Feret for volunteering their time to help us out at the door. That was so kind of you, seriously. Thanks to David Parmet and Sandi Bachom for the great photos and videos [posted above].
And a final thank-you to my business colleagues, Jason and Laura, who worked tirelessly for SO LONG behind the scenes to make sure the evening was nothing short of a massive success. You guys rock. Ok, I’m going to go off and sleep for a week…
[Picture taken from the Marfa Plain, looking Southeast, about 15 miles West of Alpine, Texas. Cathedral Mountain in the distance.]
I’m writing this from Miami. Heading back to West Texas tomorrow. I woke up this morning looking forward to my return, so what the heck, I posted the photo above. JP Rangaswami is in town on vacation; Jason and I met him and his lovely family two night ago for drinks [Talk about well-brought-up children. Gosh. Off the scale.].
We talked briefly about me being in Alpine. “It seems like you needed to take your foot off the accelerator,” he said. Yup. That’s about it.
Yesterday I wrote about making more limited edition prints for Stormhoek:
2. Lithographs. We had a lot of good fortune creating limited edition, fine art prints. Everything from the Blue Monster series, to the Techcrunch party poster. Basically, I want to spend a LOT OF TIME in the next year, signing limited edition lithographs and getting them in to the hands of anybody who may want one. These lithographs will hopefully become “Social Objects”, which anyone who knows me will know, I believe is the future of marketing. It is my belief that, if we can get enough of them printed, signed and out there, they’ll create enough interesting conversations which will INDIRECTLY move a lot of cases of wine . The big question is, [A] How many prints would I need to sign in order to make that happen and [B] If the answer is, “A Lot”, will I have the time, discipline and stamina to go the distance? Yes, it’s a huge challenge. Then again, so is climbing Mount Everest.
And a few days ago I wrote about landing a book deal with Penguin. “Exciting News etc.“
The needs of being a cartoonist, and the needs of being a “Web 2.0 marketing guy” are very different. Though it wasn’t an overnight decision, recently I decided to re-adjust my life to something that was more conducive to being the former, as opposed to be the latter.
Was this a wise move? We’ll see. What is a Web 2.0 marketing guy, anyway? Somebody who gets paid to have “Ever-Fragmenting Conversations about Ever-Fragmenting Conversations.” Compared to tarring roofs in Texas in summer, it’s not a bad job, but… Whatever.
But one hundred years from now, I’ll be dead, and this website will be gone. Nobody will be talking about Web 2.0 anymore. But a wee voice tells me some of the cartoons will be still floating around, maybe online, maybe in books, maybe one or two of the originals will be hanging in private collections.
And God Willing, some of the jokes will still be funny…
After a couple of months’ silence on Stormhoek, I’m ready to start talking about it again. [The short version:] Stormhoek basically has new owners, Origin Wines of South Africa. They bought it when Orbital Wines, Stormhoek’s main importer in London, went out of business, due to cash flow problems. Origin Wines is owned by a guy called Bernard. He and I have been talking for these last few months, trying to work out a deal. Looks like we’ve finally made one.
In an ideal world I would’ve been a bit more talkative and transparent. Was it a bad call on my part? From the average perspective of a blogger with little direct interest in the brand, I could see why they would argue that position. But in the long run, me keeping my mouth shut probably saved the brand, the deal with Bernard, my interest in a company I dedicated three years of of my life to and, not to mention, the jobs of many dozen South African vineyard workers. So fuck it. Take the hit and move on.
So what’s the new plan? What will Stormhoek 2.0 look like?
Actually, not that different from Stormhoek 1.0. Between 2005 – 2007, Jason Korman and I tried out a lot of different experiments with social media. Some worked better than others. Some of the stuff we had high hopes for, utterly failed. Some of the stuff we had very small expectations for, caused major earthquakes in the wine marketing world, and sold many tens of thousands of wine cases. Like they say in the movie business, nobody knows anything. That being said, we did learn the hard way that there’s a lot to be said for keeping things simple. Ergo: Stormhoek 2.0 has three main prongs:
1. Getting bottles of wine into the hands of my friends and peers i.e. the bloggers and the Web 2.0 crowd. Sponsoring geek dinners, Web 2.0 parties, conferences, that kinda thing. 2. Lithographs. We had a lot of good fortune creating limited edition, fine art prints. Everything from the Blue Monster series, to the Techcrunch party poster. Basically, I want to spend a LOT OF TIME in the next year, signing limited edition lithographs and getting them in to the hands of anybody who may want one. These lithographs will hopefully become “Social Objects”, which anyone who knows me will know, I believe is the future of marketing. It is my belief that, if we can get enough of them printed, signed and out there, they’ll create enough interesting conversations which will INDIRECTLY move a lot of cases of wine . The big question is, [A] How many prints would I need to sign in order to make that happen and [B] If the answer is, “A Lot”, will I have the time, discipline and stamina to go the distance? Yes, it’s a huge challenge. Then again, so is climbing Mount Everest. 3. Blogging. Goes without saying.
Yes, Jason and I are still working on Stormhoek together. And Graham Knox, who was until recently the head of production down in South Africa, talked to Bernard this morning about keeping on working with Stormhoek as well. Go figure.
One final thought: For all the crap that went down over Orbital’s demise, I’m actually kinda glad it happened. A lot of dead wood was cleared in the process; I think Bernard will make a much better partner than some of the people, now moved on, that I’ve had to work with during the last three years. All in all, I think we’re in a much better position to carry out my “Evil Plan For World Domination” than we were a year ago, so I’m actually pretty happy and excited. Rock on. Feel free to drop me an e-mail if you have any ideas which may help the cause. Thanks.