Rewind: Edward Snowden, Burritos and the Future Human

Rewind is our weekly More post where someone from our brand experience agency curates his or her favorite news from the week before. This week’s post is brought to you by Andrew N., copywriter.

Andrew started working fulltime as a copywriter after spending a decade in journalism — black coffee fuels both professions well, he’s found. His favorite dance move is the Double Stanky Leg Drunken Stagger — “you gotta get loose.”

A Cold War spy novelist couldn’t have conjured a better spy alias than Edward Snowden. But it turns out, the name of the whistleblower responsible for the biggest intelligence leak in modern U.S. history is real. Snowden, a 29-year-old former National Security Administration contractor, went public this week and delivered an articulate, cogent explanation of why he essentially guaranteed the end of his free life to expose the U.S. government’s secret surveillance operations that include a massive collection of Americans’ phone records and internet-usage data. Whether Snowden is a hero, a traitor or some combination, is up for debate (as is how much privacy Americans should forego in the name of security). But his story is fascinating, and I’ve been hooked all week.

Pokey LaFarge dresses and drawls like a Baptist minister, appropriately, as he and his St. Louis bluegrass band would be right at home in front of a Southern congregation (even better, on the muddy banks of the Missouri River performing at a baptism). I caught them for the first time last Thursday night at the Waiting Room in Omaha, and was hooked. They play a mix of jazz, blues, country and ragtime that I found infectious. Maybe you will, too.

If you’re familiar with Omaha, you might know Emerging Terrain from its work turning a prominent grain elevator on I-80 into a large-scale art installation. The Omaha nonprofit research and design collaborative works to facilitate smart, engaging urban planning. And this month, they’re developing a vision for Omaha’s Belt Line, a 15-mile-long railroad that carried passengers and cargo through the city starting in 1885, until it was removed in the 1980s and ’90s. They’re having open studios over the next two weeks, so you can help. Do it.

Nearly every day for lunch, I build a burrito. It’s simple, but excellent. And I never deviate from the recipe: large tortilla; ½ can of black beans; shredded Mexican cheese; microwave for 1:20: top with one avocado and a bunch of salsa verde. I sit down at my desk, and stream “The Daily Show” that ran the night before. But change is inevitable, and this week marked host Jon Stewart handing over his seat to John Oliver as “Stew Beef” begins his extended hiatus to produce a documentary. The lanky Brit, Oliver, took a couple days to get his feet under him, but he was in fine form Thursday as he covered Pat Robertson’s sex life. (My burrito is always finely formed.)

Finally, this week I learned how humans may look in 100,000 years, and I wished I hadn’t.

A Guide to Using Technology to Deliver Meaningful Stories & Compelling Brand Experiences

Storytelling reposition blog image

“We are born storytellers and listeners. We like to be entertained, moved and instructed, to connect with something larger than ourselves.”

— “Big Thinking at the Bottom: Storytelling vs. Storyselling

Storytelling is inseparable from the human experience. Stories impart valuable lessons, entertain and delight us, cultivate our imaginations and communicate knowledge simultaneously. Moreover, they provide a useful cognitive framework for navigating new discoveries and experiences, ensuring cultural values and technical knowledge are not lost with every generation. We need stories to make sense of the world our technology continually builds. Without them, one could argue, there would be no progress.

For marketers, knowing how to use relevant technology to tell stories is fundamental to delivering a tangible brand experience. (For an in-depth report on using multiple screens to convey meaningful brand narratives, check out our free white paper, “Big Thinking at the Bottom: Storytelling vs. Storyselling.”)

In the beginning, stories were simple, didactic vehicles that spread the values of a particular civilization or culture by entertaining and engaging the listener. These stories were likely to start with “In the beginning…” and employ a no-frills, straightforward narrative experience via the technology of the day: the human voice. Usually, they conveyed a single big idea or theme. Our earliest narrative were the artistic equivalent to the wheel or the cart, functional, useful items that laid the groundwork for more complex tools and experiences.

As humans progressed culturally and scientifically, stories — like technology — become more intricate, challenging and better designed. With new storytelling technology like books, radio and film, narratives could now deliver a more immersive experience to parse meaning from an evolving world. They could take place at the speed of consciousness (Joyce), exist entirely as images (Chaplin) or accidentally provoke mass hysteria (Welles). Eventually, the design of a story became just as if not more important than its message.

The evolution of literary and dramatic storytelling can also be seen in the advertising world, which takes its cues from art. We see a similar progression from simplicity to complexity, from top-down campaigns orchestrated to disperse a single big idea through mainstream media, to responsive, real-time, novel interactions between brands and people drawing on a range of multiscreen tools.

Now, with consumers shaping the brand experience as much as marketers do, telling a meaningful story involves the development of platform-specific big ideas from the ground up, i.e., letting your audience shape the narrative, with minimal-yet-strategic guidance from you. It’s not that big ideas no longer matter, it’s just that our increasingly powerful technology has given rise to the equally powerful (if paradoxical) development of big ideas at the grassroots level, where technology mediates stories and interactions. Today, it’s not enough to develop one big idea and push it out to the masses, and then sit back and let the money roll in. Brands must now create big ideas specifically for each platform. Ideas must be transformed into compelling stories told for their distinct, yet interdependent, places in the ecosystem.

Download our white paper, “Big Thinking at the Bottom: Storytelling vs. Storyselling,” for in-depth strategic insights from our brand experience experts. This free report offers valuable advice for delivering utility and crafting meaningful stories via the devices people use every day.

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Mobile Wallets, Social Nicheworks & More Tech Trends to Watch For – Our New Guide

More iPhones are sold per second than babies born worldwide — about 4.6 iPhones to 4.2 live births per second, according to this article in the Sydney Morning Herald. That’s insane.

We are reaching full mobile coverage at a mind-boggling rate. In 10 years, everyone who wants a smartphone will have one. Not only will our smartphones be smartphones, they will be our wallets, intuitive personal assistants and second-most-used entertainment devices, behind televisions.

So, inspired by the imminent global ubiquity of smartphones, we’ve crafted a free guide to help innovative-minded CMOs and marketers navigate the new platforms at their fingertips.

In our latest installment of the Phenomblue Strategic Insight Series, “Mobile Wallets, Social Nicheworks and More Tech Trends to Watch For,” our brand experience experts analyze the latest trends and platforms now disrupting the technology landscape. We offer quick takeaways and action steps to help CMOs and brands navigate the new mobile-centric ecosystem, including:

  • Implementing a mobile wallet API to capture valuable customer data, speed up the transaction process and offer coupons, discounts and loyalty programs.
  • Geo-fencing or offering targeted incentives to people within a set radius of your store.
  • Converging your online and offline presence to combine the ease of online shopping with the immediacy and social interaction of the brick-and-mortar experience.

As a brand experience agency using technology to connect brands and people, we constantly research, develop and test new technology. We also spend a lot of time researching and monitoring a variety of industries, and then figuring out how new technologies can offer relevant and innovative platforms for consumer engagement. This process — combined with our freakishly talented team of dreamers, innovators and designers — lets us consistently deliver utility to brands that want to build meaningful customer interactions and a better brand experience.

Download “Mobile Wallets, Social Nicheworks and More Tech Trends to Watch For” to obtain free insights on the platforms now offering unprecedented opportunities to reach consumers, cultivate loyalty and provide utility more effectively than ever before.

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Rewind: Coffee, the Math Police and Dangerous Poets

Rewind is our weekly More post where someone from our brand experience agency curates his or her favorite news from the week before. This week’s post is brought to you by Tom M., our manager of content marketing.

Tom is on vacation in Colorado this week — but it’s not the strangest place he’s been (this is).

A recent study published in the Journal of Consumer Research explored the effects of ambient noise on creativity. Researchers divided participants into four teams and assigned them to environments with background noise of 50 decibels, 70 decibels, 85 decibels or none. Each person completed a Remote Associates Test, a close-as-you-can-come-to-measuring-the-immeasurable tool that helps researchers quantify creativity.

Those in the 70-decibel environment (moderately noisy) scored highest. This reconfirms a study I read a few years ago that said coffee shops are ideal for achieving flow-state because the noise relaxes you enough to numb the critical-thinking part of the Prefrontal Cortex and unleash your intuition, but not enough to make you fall asleep. There you have it: multiple studies attesting to the benefits of working remotely. Appropriately enough, I am writing this in a coffee shop.

As a guy whose mind barnacles itself to everything even vaguely interesting, I find a daily ramble down to the ol’ Creativity Post beats a teaspoon of elk’s-tooth powder for what ails ya any day of the week, creatively speaking. That’s where I first heard of the Math Police.

You all know about the Grammar Police, the rude folks who snivel over misplaced commas, spelling mistakes, the words your and you’re. Many times, the Grammar Police themselves don’t even know their own grammar, as when they say something ridiculous like, don’t end a sentence with a preposition or split an infinitive. Sure, I’m just as annoyed by an incomprehensibly written screed as the next guy, but only because it’s incomprehensible, not because the grammar is off. I feel like Grammar Police are attempting to mollify their intellectual insecurities by pointing out grammatical mistakes rather than taking the time to respond with a cogent argument.

So I was delighted to read this article about the Math Police, which questions why it’s socially unacceptable to be bad at grammar, but totally fine to brag about being bad at math. Math is a lot harder than grammar, it takes a lot more patience and intellectual effort and it’s a lot more necessary to innovation than grammar is. Trust me, I’m a writer.

One of the biggest challenges for a writer is to come up with headlines that compel people to read the article. Whoever wrote this headline must’ve spent all day at Starbucks. This Mind Controlled 3-D Printer Generates Creatures from Your Kids’ Brainwaves. This Creative Director from the UK named Bryan Salt developed a brainwave-reading headset that creates 3-D models based on your thoughts. It’s called Monster Dreamer, and it required math.

Liao Yiwu is a poet, reporter and musician from China and prominent critic of the Chinese government. Proving that the pen truly is mightier than the sword, Yiwu was stalked, imprisoned and tortured by the actual police. His latest book is For a Song and a Hundred Songs and I think I’m going to love it.

I want to win the lottery too.

Our New Look. Dreamers, Innovators and Creators.

If you’re a regular here, you know Phenomblue operates on a deceptively simple formula: Insight + Desire + Utility = successful brand experience. By adhering strictly to this fundamental marketing truth, we deliver the most innovative solutions to our clients every time. Furthermore, our culture of creativity keeps us developing internal projects that continually surprise and delight us.

But our goal is not just to have fun and be engaging. Our clients have real challenges that demand thought-leadership, contagious ideas and revolutionary solutions. So how do we live up to the ambitious pursuit of excellence?

We constantly push ourselves to accomplish the impossible through all the technology available to us, from pencils to multi-touch Surface experiences. If the technology we need doesn’t exist yet, we invent it. We think that’s what life’s about.

So, to better capture our essence, we decided to make some upgrades to our site showcasing our band of talented visionaries, along with the work that proves our worth.

We’ve added a video that takes you into our fortress of collaboration. We wanted to offer a visual artifact of the processes that help us consistently deliver innovative solutions to our clients. Plus we all look good on camera, which never hurts.

We’ve also updated our slogan: we are dreamers, innovators and creators using technology to connect people and brands. We dream surprising-yet-inevitable solutions to brands’ challenges, innovate the technology needed to get there, and design experiences that cultivate desire, deliver utility and help brands meet their business goals. The fact that we’re also strategists and engineers is self-evident. Just check out our work.

Rewind: Cell Phone Tracking, Supercharged Cars & Beer-pouring Robots

Rewind is our weekly More post where someone from our brand experience agency curates his or her favorite news from the week before. This week’s post is brought to you by Brandon B., Associate Director, Software Design and Development.

Brandon’s career began when he applied for a technology internship right here at Phenomblue way back in 2008 (ah, the good ol’ days). And lucky for us, he’s been here working hard and cracking jokes ever since. The strangest place Brandon has ever visited is Prestonsburg, KY – population 3,255 according to the 2010 U.S. Census. He was there visiting his younger brother who, at the time, was working at the Jeny Wiley theater. Brandon didn’t go into much detail but promises this place was about as interesting as it gets.

It seems like these days you can look any direction and find more stories signaling a decrease in personal privacy and an increase in government surveillance. Bucking the trend this past Friday, Maine’s lawmakers took historic steps to be the first state to vote in favor of legislation requiring the government to obtain a warrant before tracking cell phones.

Similarly, Google was dealt a tough legal blow this past week as it failed at its attempt to throw out the FBI’s request for user information in the U.S. District Court in California.

During my last rewind, I dedicated a few lines to Elon Musk and his electric car company Tesla and their expectation to be profitable near the end of 2012. As fate would have it, Musk made headlines again as the company finished paying off it’s $465 million dollar loan from the U.S. Department of Energy 9 years early.

And when it rains, it pours. Musk also made headlines for his announcement that Tesla drivers would be able trek cross country courtesy of the Tesla supercharging stations by the end of this year. For those who might not know, the Tesla supercharging stations allow drivers to charge their car in roughly 30 minutes free of charge.

It’s no secret that many of us at Phenomblue love beer, so it should come as no surprise that we would love to have a futuristic beer-pouring robot. And fortunately for us, Cornell’s Personal Robotics Lab is on the case having created just such a robot. Maybe they’ll let us take it for a test drive?

Bonus Day Project: Ladies of Phenomblue and Habitat Omaha


Bonus Day for several individuals and groups in the office consists of mad brainstorming, intensive learning, crazy-fast coding and/or on-the-spot designing. And with an awesome new office space, designed around the idea of collaboration and flexibility, it’s not a surprise this Bonus Day was no different – for most.

A few of the women of Phenomblue took a more community-based, hands-on approach to Bonus Day. With an offer from Shannon W., director of media, and board member for Habitat for Humanity of Omaha, a small group volunteered their services to partake in Habitat’s Women Build.

Women Build is one of the many volunteer projects Habitat for Humanity has each year. It is an all-women coalition that builds homes in partnership with a hardworking, low-income family. It is a great way for women in the community to volunteer, give back and gain new skills. Ladies from all walks of life partake – many are first-time builders, including all of us (with the exception of Shannon).

This year’s Women Build project is very unique. Located at 4125 N 18th Street, this is the first year the women’s coalition will be tackling the restoration of a home originally built in 1915. The project kicked off on May 10 and the house needed to be gutted to the studs. So, when the group arrived early on May 16th, there was plenty of work to be done. As a team, they removed windows, cut pipes, manhandled wires and dismantled the enclosure of a porch (you know, typical stuff) amongst other miscellaneous tasks.

While most of their day was spent in demo mode, they were careful to not break any of the materials that could be reused. All the windows of the enclosed porch went to the neighbor to help him with his remodeling project. The electrical wiring they tore out all went to be recycled. And the doors that weren’t being reused went to Habitat’s Restore, a home improvement retail store run by Habitat for Humanity of Omaha.

The amount of work that can be done in a day is mind blowing! And the difference that day can make to a family is life changing. So go volunteer and be part of the bigger picture. You won’t regret it! We promise.

This is part one of our featured Bonus Day projects from the second quarter of 2013. Bonus Day is an internal, agency-wide flash-exercise in innovation, where ad hoc teams of strategists, designers and engineers carry a passion project from conception to completion in a day.

Rewind: Bacon Burgers, Arrested Development & Selfies

Rewind is our weekly More post where someone from our brand experience agency curates his or her favorite news from the week before. This week’s post is brought to you by Kt M., Phenomblue Vice President and our LA office’s GM.

With a love for communications and sociology, Kt was drawn to the field of advertising and public relations – after all, to effectively communicate with anyone, we must first understand them and the systems they participate in. Plus, marketing pays better than sociology or writing and it comes with health insurance. Kt’s unbeatable Mom Dance moves may not bring all the boys to the “yard,” but they have a 100% effectiveness rate for turning your frown upside down.

It’s no secret that I love burgers and am quite the fan of bacon. So vegetarians or cardiologists, consider yourselves warned. Thanks to a promotion at Burger King Japan, a man ordered a burger topped with 1,050 strips of bacon. While assuredly delicious and pretty affordable at around $80, it’s just the latest in BK Japan’s over-the-top campaigns. Imagine showing the ROI to the client on that one.

Since we’re talking about things I love, it’s only fitting that Disney Parks make this list. Disney is the master of creating fully immersive on-property experiences, from the music playing to the pavement in the different lands to the impeccably maintained grounds. But of course, not every idea makes it into the parks. Here’s a list of eight Disneyland attractions that didn’t make the cut. (My hopes are still out for Nostromo.)

The entire Internet and everyone I know is giddy about the return of Arrested Development. This piece dives into why we love it so, which can be linked to the late great Golden Girls. Proof that formulas work, and they can bring us some of the best TV along with some of the worst. With both AD and GG ranking in the best, obviously.

Turns out our memories are more pliable than we may have thought. Researchers at Iowa State University have found that when recalled, our memories can be rewritten with false information. It’s like opening a document on a computer; it’s vulnerable to edits before being saved again. Time to figure out how to make my memories more like PDFs and less like .doc files.

Trending Coverage: 2013 Internet Week NY Recap


“We’re in our sixth year now,” says Caroline Waxler of Internet Week New York. “It’s a festival that brings together culture, business and technology, all in the great city of New York. Forty-five-thousand people come to our city from all over the world. Keynotes, panels, talks, debates going on all day. We have a tactical classroom, where people can learn to become more digital. And then also, around the city, we have hundreds of events.”
IWNY Hopes To Illustrate City’s Prominent Place In Tech World from NY1

For this week’s Internet Week New York (IWNY), we reactivated Coverage, our content curation and strategic insight tool that provides utility to executive leaders who crave a festival’s breakthrough discoveries or insights, but aren’t sure which events are worth their time. We launched the site back in March to highlight the best content and distill the essence of SXSW. This week, we spent more time researching, reading and packaging brand experience insights from the most useful content out there. Similar to before, the feedback was humbling and great. Unlike last time, however, we identified our IWNY audience as those users not at the event – but back at the office or on-the-go.

Here’s which stories were trending, plus our own strategic insight for each:

As Pinterest Meets With Marketers, Evolving Business Model Gets Clearer
from Ad Age

In this great Ad Age article, Eric Fulwiler discusses Pinterest’s developing business model — it’s not about social, but about searching the visual web. “Brands need to admire the rise of the visual web — beyond just Pinterest — and incorporate it into their marketing strategies.” As images gain traction as the most valuable exchanges between people on the Internet, Fulwiler discusses the potential shift between SEO and SAO — social aggregation optimization — as a way to craft content that performs better. “The visual web has a human heart, fulfilled not through not only algorithms, but individual curation and context as well… Let’s face it, we don’t look at thousands of pictures, food and beach vacation homes for answers. We’re looking for ideas and motivation. The visual web is about discovery — instead of quick, direct-response answers and actions.” CMOs should keep in mind the shareability of content, not just the content itself — if such a tactic fits their business goals.

IWNY: Nielsen Study to Show How Tweets Boost TV Ratings
from ClickZ

An 8.5 percent increase in TV-related tweets about a show correlates to a 1 percent boost in ratings, according to preliminary Nielsen data for TV ratings among 18-34-year-olds. Sean Casey, SVP of products for Nielsen and founder of Social Guide, reported that viewing impressions range from 50 to 200 times greater than tweeting activity. Brands producing TV content might consider using a well-known ambassador to live tweet during programs and create blog entries, as TV One discovered when it made Spinderella (formerly of Salt-N-Pepa) an ambassador for the show “Unsung,” which spotlights R&B and Soul groups that have for whatever reason fallen into obscurity. This article is full of great Nielsen insights. Read it.

“Creativity in 140 Characters” – Guy Yalif and Internet Week New York
from Social Media Today

We have entered an age where brands can create content relatively cheaply and still reach millions. The brevity of Twitter provides the perfect opportunity for brands to create something great for little money. It’s a challenge, but the non-negotiable limit of 140 characters opens up possibilities to go beyond the expected and come up with an incredibly creative piece of content. When you produce amazing content for a platform like Twitter — which sees over 200 million active users globally — it’s easier and more cost-effective than ever to get noticed.

Exclusive Q&A With BuzzFeed Editor-in-Chief Ben Smith

Marketers take heed: shareability beats SEO, hands down. Now that news is judged as much by its contagiousness as by its content, it’s time to produce stuff people actually want to share. “You can interest people and get them to click on a misleading headline, but you can’t trick them into sharing it. You can trick a search engine into surfacing a mediocre or useless story no one’s talking about, but no one is going to share it.” Don’t miss this useful interview with BuzzFeed Editor-in-Chief Ben Smith.

Boston and Other “Digital Cities” Visit Internet Week New York
from Xconomy

On Monday, representatives from 11 cities converged on IWNY to discuss how technology is breaking down information silos between governments and business, improving city services and offering utility to companies and citizens. Boston, for instance, is giving public data to tech companies to help them develop apps to improve city life, such as StreetBump, a soon-to-be-launched app that alerts the city to roads needing repair. Developing a relationship with local governments can help you access valuable public data about citizens, neighborhoods and other data troves that may lead to unexpected innovation and more business.

Fireside Chat Excerpt: Publish or Perish: Content at The Speed of Culture
from Livestream

In response to a prediction that in the next few years, brands should expect to promote 40 to 60 pieces of meaningful content a day, CEO and Founder of DAME Jennifer Reitman said, “If content is king, relevancy is queen. You have to be relevant, and you have to be authentic. If you’re just spewing stuff, your customer’s gonna know. They can see right through that.” Our sentiments exactly. People have become too savvy to see through obvious, insincere marketing ploys. They need utility and meaningful experiences.

Hear, Hear! How Social Media Makes It Easy to Make a Difference

SimonJoynerGovernments and businesses aren’t the only organizations constantly struggling to make do with less. As governmental support, grant funds and private donations diminish, charities are feeling the pinch like never before, forced to cut vital services and narrow the scope of their operations.

In Omaha, for instance, few people realize that Goodwill Industries only gets some of its budget from thrift stores. The rest is supplied by a mix of government funding, grants and donations. As funds dwindle, the whole community — not just the organization itself — suffers.

It’s not that people are becoming less generous. Many are not aware of the problem, or don’t know how to give. Thankfully, technology and social media are making it easier than ever for people to make a big impact with their resources.

Omaha Gives! is a 24-hour charitable challenge sponsored by local foundations, businesses and nonprofits, and powered by social media. It is the city’s first ever giving holiday.

Today users can donate $10 or more to any local nonprofit registered with the initiative. Donations of $10,000 or less will be matched by Omaha Gives! sponsors.

Focusing on the number of donors, rather than the size of donations, is key to the Omaha Gives! strategy. Relying heavily on social media as to influence meaningful action, Omaha Gives! empowers people to support the organizations they love.

Although we are not directly involved, Phenomblue supports efforts to improve local communities, which shape our lives in so many ways we often forget to notice. With clients, friends and other local organizations we like involved, we’re excited about everything going on.

Our copywriter Andrew N. and his organization Hear Nebraska‘s annual fundraising campaign will conclude with the event today. Hear Nebraska is a nonprofit cultural organization that cultivates the state’s vibrant, fertile music and arts community, offering resources and a voice for bands, artists and the state’s creative class. Hear Nebraska provides a vital platform to enhance the efforts of Nebraska’s diverse artists and make the state a globally recognized cultural destination. Go ahead and throw down some love for Hear Nebraska.

Although charities need support year-round, innovative holidays like Omaha Gives! are leveraging technology and generosity to yield a major impact on local communities. Look out for giving holidays in your area — technology has never made it easier to make a difference.