Havaianas: how the fuck did that happen?

I was walking home today when I noticed a bloke wearing Havaianas:

havaianas-0

 

(None of these is the bloke I saw.)

Then it occurred to me that these flip-flops (or thongs for the Australian amongst you. Oddly, Australians also call G-strings ‘thongs’, as do Americans. Stick to flip-flops, guys; we invented the fucking language so you wouldn’t get all snarled up in such confusions) are a great example of a product that is virtually identical to all the others in the category yet seems to have some sort of superiority that exists almost entirely through its branding.

Now, if I were Dave Trott or Rory Sutherland I could analyse seven shades of shit out of this odd set of circumstances, but as it is I’m going to see if I can cobble together some sort of explanation as I watch Good Morning Vietnam at the end of a busy day (RIP Robin):

Their only points of difference are the ‘wishbone’ toe piece (inspired by Japanese geisha sandals) and slightly squashier sole (a closely guarded secret that surely can’t be that hard to emulate). They used to be just like any old flip-flop, but in the 1990s the decision was made to rebrand them as a fashion accessory. A HuffPo article on the subject says:

The label looked to inventive wearers who had long been transforming their bicolour sandals into single colour ones by flipping the white-topped sole over. In 1994, Havaianas introduced a new line of one-shade sandals in black, royal blue, pink and purple.

Suddenly, middle- and upper-class Brazilians who either wouldn’t have been caught dead in Havaianas or donned them exclusively for the short trek from their beachfront apartments to the sand, were snatching them up in multiple shades for all occasions.

People of all classes now wear them on all occasions, from Oscar red carpets to a trip to the beach. In Brazil they remain cheap enough for the less well-off ($5 for a basic pair), whereas they cost 5-6 times that in more interesting colours and richer countries.

But is that it? My own theory suggests that the little Brazilian flag on the toe part was the real stroke of genius: it gave each pair a recognisable branding so as the ubiquity grew it was obvious that these flip-flops were Havaianas, and with no other brands on the market it gave people something to aim for and ask for. Like Converse in its occasional forays to the top of the fashion tree, they became a great opportunity to wear something comfortable and easy on occasions that would otherwise require annoying brogues or heels.

So perhaps it’s a combination of all of the above. I have a pair, and although I snagged them for free I do feel a bit better wearing them than any old pair that might have just cost £3 in Lanzarote. Maybe that’s my deep-seated wish to express to people that I have ‘taste’ and more than £3 to my name.

Whatever it is, the branding has worked on me and hundreds of millions of others across the world. Chances are it’s also worked on you. Why is that?

Are you a web developer who wants to do some good?

 

My friend Sarah is creating an academy for young people:

 

The What If Academy is committed to every young person on the planet living a life that honours their talents and skills while making a positive contribution to other people.

The initial three-day training course allows young people to explore their way of thinking and acting in life – rather than reacting to it. It maximises their understanding of how to get what they want while positively impacting their communities and the people and things they care about. It teaches them to be powerful yet humble and trains them in how to be inspirational humanitarian leaders, whatever their personal views and interests. It’s based in the UK, but the plan is to expand it to reach young people all over the world!

Once the three-day course is finished, they become What If Academy graduates and get access to weekly seminars. These seminars take place at City Hall for two hours one evening a week. The seminars are ongoing and all young people who have attended the What If Academy’s three-day training course can come.

We need to make sure that this opportunity, which will be free to all young people, has a web presence. If a web developer out there is interested in helping us, by donating their time to get an online presence that is engaging, relevant and would appeal to the most vulnerable young people out there (as well as appealing to potential funders!) please let us know!

Contact: Sarah@whatifacademy.org.uk 07866515522

 

Sounds good to me. Obv I can’t ‘develop webs’ to save my life, but if you can help do get in touch. (BTW, Sarah is a very brilliant and inspiring person, so you’ll probably get more out of all this than just an opportunity to help young people realise their potential – although that should be a darn cool payback anyway.)

(No) Time to think

My new job surprisingly involves a new commute. Instead of 15 minutes on a bike I now have 30-60 minutes in a car.

But it ‘s a pleasant journey. There’s 25 minutes of Mulholland Drive:

46763160

Followed by 15 minutes of the slightly less pleasant 405 freeway:

la-405-freeway-construction

Anyway, I now have a couple of hours to ‘kill’, which I obliterate in devastating style by listening to Howard Stern. However, when he starts to get a little dull and the traffic slows sufficiently I actually get out my phone and check Twitter. Yes, I understand that is somewhat crazy and irresponsible behaviour, but it’s OK, I have a quote from Louis CK and and an article from the NY Times to back me up (thanks, W):

“Sometimes when things clear away and you’re not watching anything and you’re in your car and you start going, oh no, here it comes, that I’m alone, and it starts to visit on you, just this sadness,” he said. “And that’s why we text and drive. People are willing to risk taking a life and ruining their own because they don’t want to be alone for a second because it’s so hard.”

OK, from my own POV the whole thing feels a bit of a reach. I, like many other people, like to use my phone in quiet moments, but generally this is as a form of entertainment: there are articles and books to be read, amusing links to be clicked on, opinions to disagree with… I also occasionally read while eating breakfast or ‘making stool’. Am I depressed and unable to be alone with my thoughts? I don’t think so. When it comes to the one time I really am alone with my thoughts – i.e. the minutes before I drop off to sleep – I don’t go to dark places. I tend to think nice thoughts about how aspects of my life might become better than they are now. Sure, if I have a problem on my mind I may well try to solve it, but my default mind state isn’t a pit of despair.

Maybe that’s just fine for me and the rest of you are wallowing in an effluence of unending misery. Are you? Do you try to keep the horrors at bay with a few games of Angry Bird or Threes (Threes is really fucking good, BTW)? What about when you make stool or drive a car (or make stool while driving a car – those jams on the 405 can get pretty lengthy, you know)?

Where do you go when you’re (*gulp*) truly alone?

I loved you then as I love you still, Though I put you on a pedestal, they put you on the pill. I don’t feel bad about letting you go, I just feel sad about the weekend.

Slug solos (thanks, W).

You’ll be stunned to discover that all Marvel films are basically the same.

Man takes shrooms at ComicCon; hilarity ensues (thanks, T).

What’s it look like to get attacked by a Great White? (Thanks, J.)

Derelict London (thanks, V).

Social media Fails.

Colouring/coloring book for grown ups (thanks, J).

Hang abstract art the right way up (thanks, J).

Excellent Tarantino interview (thanks, J).

Jack Lemmon on writing/Mamet/Glengarry.

Photos of really quite brilliant things.

Runners who’ve made dicks and Space Invaders on Nike+.

Drunk Russian Streetfighter:

New York’s secret underground world:

Every Samuel L. Jackson ‘Motherfucker’:

Great little animation (thanks, J):

Look, some black people don’t know they disgust me!

Here’s an Aussie anti-racism ad:

I think the insight of small, incremental damages adding up to something much bigger is good.

But I’m not sure portraying racism is a sneaky man with a deep voice who whispers mean things in your ear is going to make much difference.

Will the joke teller at the end still tell the joke at home?

Will the bloke in the shop never think anyone from a racial minority looks suspicious?

And will the guy in the mall decide not to move an inch away from someone he wasn’t even that close to in the first place?

I get the message that white people shouldn’t appear prejudiced to racial minorities, but there’s no suggestion that the root thoughts or causes of racism should be addressed.

So please, look down on those terrible people; just make sure they don’t know you’re doing it.

movies prove TV is best

Shit. I’ve barely been in LA a week and I’m already on my third US-related post.

Whatevs…

I was walking past a hunormous poster for Guardians of the Galaxy this morning…

Giant Guardians of Galaxy billboard sunset strip

…when it occurred to me, for the umpteenth time, that these things must cost a lot of money to make, then even more money to own the poster site for a few weeks. I continued to wonder how that price, for a single site in a single city in a country of 320m people, balances out with the potential income for that movie.

Then, as luck would have it, my musings were answered a few hours later with a handy article from the Hollywood Reporter.

For those of you too busy to read it, the gist is that marketing costs for a big Hollywood movie are pushing $100m in the US, and another $100m for the rest of the world.

That seems crazy, particularly as the movie itself is unlikely to cost that much. It also seems crazy because ‘in 1980, the average cost of marketing a studio movie in the U.S. was $4.3 million ($12.4 million in today’s dollars). By 2007, it had shot up to nearly $36 million. If the MPAA still tracked spending on Prints & Advertising, that number would be north of $40 million today for medium-size films like The Fault in Our Stars or Tammy.’

So WTF?

Well, apparently the main culprit for this is the cost of TV advertising, which has risen enormously in recent years. But, you might ask, with so many more reasonably-priced and better-targeted media choices out there, why not use the other methods and save a few bob?

Interesting question. According to the article and the stats, only TV has the massive reach that these mass-market behemoths need. So far from being dead in any way, TV is the medium the tight, tight bastards of Hollywood will pour hundreds of millions into because no other channel can blast out a gigantic message like it..

If that’s contrary to anything you’ve heard over the last few years, then drink in this delicious proof that TV is the biggest and best medium to communicate a message. If you can afford it, and your target is wide enough to justify it, there is literally no website, social media whatsit or DM thingie that can compete.

Jude Law booze ad

It’s all fairly pleasant and well shot, but two small points (well, one small and one big. Or maybe two big. Let’s see what you think):

1. I would never have watched it if not for my blogging interest. If I see that a company wants 6 minutes or so of my time I wonder if there’s anything else I’d rather do, and 99999999999999999999999 times out of 100000000000000000000000 I manage to find something; something like searching my navel for errant lint, or having the skin removed from 43% of my body. Hats off to Johnnie Walker for at least trying to pique my interest with a Hollywood star, but they have forgotten the great maxim of Phone Shop: No Man Likes Jude Law (having said that, I did a VO with him last year and he was lovely, so personally speaking, At Least One Man Likes Jude Law).

2. Once you’ve got people through the door, in a plot like this the dance has to be amazing, spellbinding, breathtaking, magical, wonderful and, yes, awe-inspiring. This dance was tepid at best. Not only would I not swap my lovely ‘rarer than rare’ (could they not thinking of something rare that would be better than ‘rare’? The classic ‘rocking horse shit’ has set the bar high, but this is an indulgent little piece that needs commensurate writing, IMHO) boat for that dance, I’d sooner hang on to my navel lint, or even the chance to have a bath with Jeremy Clarkson (not really).

So full marks for effort; medium marks for the final product.

Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, the weekend

Your selfie idea is not original (thanks, J).

The history of autocorrect (thanks, S).

Colouring book corruptions.

What really is in a name? (Thanks, J.)

Husband of pregnant wife takes beautiful shots of beer belly.

Reddit users sum up their first sexual experience in gifs (thanks, J).

The storyboard Scorsese made at 11 years old. 

Beyonce’s ‘All The Single Ladies’ works very well as a dramatic monologue (thanks, T):

Kite fight (thanks, B):

Samuel Beckett motivational cat posters (thanks, T).

Cool peasant (thanks, G):

Screen Shot 2014-07-29 at 09.28.22

Sir John of hegarty

Last week we were lucky enough to have Sir John Hegarty (he doesn’t seem to mind if you use the ‘sir’ or not, unlike Sir Ben Kingley) speak at the agency.

He was a very friendly and affable chap (I hadn’t really spoken to him since I blagged a crit with him back in 1998. He said my art director and I were more suited to writing for Viz than working in advertising. I didn’t bring this up). If he’s like that all the time he must be a joy to work/live with. Andy, our head of print production, poured him a tea and SJH said ‘Oh, Andy, you are wonderful. Thank you so much.’ If I asked a question it was always an ‘excellent’ question (hmmm… maybe all my questions were excellent).

Anyway, he said many interesting things on the subject of creativity and how to sustain it. I could make this a very long post by detailing each and every one of them or I could just proffer the three I remember most clearly:

1. A brand is made as much by the people who don’t buy it as the people who do.

He said this was the most important thing, and when the words left his lips I felt I’d heard one of those blindingly obvious truisms that had somehow never occurred to me. Of course the non-buyers are shaping the brand, but we tend to ignore them in favour of brand advocates and devotees. And then we tend to market to the (I hate this phrase) low-hanging fruit, while doing nothing about the potential damage done by the unconverted.

2. We don’t look back enough.

This is the unarguable point that it’s very odd that one’s progression in any other art form would always involve a deep knowledge and understanding of your forbears. Who would paint seriously without knowing Picasso and Rembrandt? Who would start a band without listening to Dylan or The Beatles? And it’d be pretty odd to go into movie-making without experiencing the work of Kurosawa and Welles. But advertising creatives tend to stumble blindly into whatever is required today, often armed only with the knowledge of their own favourite ads from childhood etc. For many, the great history of advertising, and the work that has been done across the globe might as well not exist and that can only be to the detriment of the quality of their work.

3. Life is the most powerful art form.

I love that one. We think of music and painting and movies as being so powerful, while ignoring the fact that we create ourselves and our worlds every second of every day. We all have to participate in that creation, and every decision we make is like one more brush stroke on a massive canvas. Of course, most of us are unaware of this, and many simply think that life is something that happens to them, but if you think of yourself as the artist there’s no limit to the extent to which you can shape the end result.

There seemed to be a common thread of unawareness running through those three points, probably because they are from a fresh perspective, the fresh perspective of a lovely gent whose drive and curiosity would put most of us to shame.

Predicting success

Her’s the trailer for this week’s US number one movie:

Yes, it looks kind of shit, but it’s taken a very impressive and somewhat surprising $44m in its first weekend in North America.

When I watch a trailer like that I think, ‘Oh, a crappy retread of Limitless with hints of Transcendence, both somewhat crappy floppish attempts at the brain-tech genre. This one’s destined for a fairly quick trip to the bargain bin section of Netflix’.

So I’d have been wrong, but I often wonder what the people involved think when they’re preparing or making a movie like that. Do they believe they’re destined for Oscars/massive box-office, or are they aware they’re taking a bit of a punt that might turn out well? Perhaps they even think they’re creating a pile of old toss but are self aware and greedy enough not to mind.

Back to Lucy: it’s directed by Luc Besson, who has had very few substantial hits (the exception is Taken, whose success, as a fuckbrained sort of retread of Frantic, surprised me even more), so what ingredients of this movie would have made those who took part think it would be any good? By all accounts it isn’t actually any good at all (it’s rated a very low C+ by those who saw it), but Joe Public don’t seem to care. It’s beaten the odds of its provenance and quality to become a massive hit. Whodathunkit?

On the flipside, when I see posters for movies like this…

6512-TheFamily-1Sht-FM2-VF-1--jpg_164950

…I think that the people involved must have been wetting themselves at the potential awards, prestige etc. (really weirdly I chose this example somewhat at random, only to find it was also directed by Luc Besson, illustrating my point quite brilliantly. Thanks, luck). If you wrote it and your agent said it would be made with that cast, and Scorsese as exec producer you’d be pretty tempted to start working on your Oscar acceptance speech. But no: it was a giant flop, millions of miles from the quality that would have landed it anything like an Academy Award.

But De Niro, Pfeiffer, the studio, Scorsese etc. would surely not have got involved if they hadn’t thought it was going to work out well. De Niro was just coming off another Oscar nomination and is starting to become David O. Russell’s go-to older guy (like Michael Caine for Christopher Nolan), so he has no need to plumb the Rocky and Bullwinkle depths of the turn of the millennium, and he’s surely not short of a bob or two (pun unintended).

Many clever, experienced film biz people have bet on black and watched it come up red, while the drunken punt on number 23 that Lucy appears to have been has come up trumps. I know William Goldman said (referring to the film industry) that ‘nobody knows anything’, but really, my cat might as well be predicting the hits coming out of Hollywood, and she has barely any knowledge of Ozu, Fassbender or Hawks.

The same applies to most art forms: albums, books and ads can become massive flops, even if they’ve been put together with just the right team of massive hotness. And great work can fail while shit sweeps the board. Nobody really does know anything, but that’s part of the fear and the fun.

If it were as predictable as numbers on a spread sheet we’d have stopped giving a shit years ago. As it is, the randomness is a juicy old joy.

Long may it continue.