Something To Try On A Train Ride

Posted in experience,media, culture and society,Off Topic by thomas on the Februar 19th, 2011

Up and away early on a holiday. It's dark and Vienna is still sleeping/partying.

I did something today you might want to try on a train ride.
First, use your MacBook until the very last drop of your battery, while playing music on the loudest possible level. Wait until the MacBook turns into coma mode and close the MacBook during the song. It is essential that the music is still playing, when the MacBook falls asleep. Then, when you’re on the train, plug in the MacBook and wake it up from the coma mode. Then … wait.

A very interesting experience. Around 10 people around me try very hard not to ’notice‘ loud, loud music blaring out of my speakers. I get hectic, hit buttons, open and close the MacBook, look at it in distanced disbelief. I unplug it, hope the music would stop (it doesn’t, and it won’t if you try it). The MacBook very unsurprisingly doesn’t give a shit. All of this goes on for 2 minutes.

I shouldn’t have given a damn about this, it’s only (good) music after all.

Keeping a a rather strange New Year’s resolution

Posted in experience,media, culture and society by thomas on the Februar 19th, 2011

People who know me a little better know that I am absolutely horrible at watching TV series or movies alone. See, when I was a kid, I always watched television with my slightly older brother. When we used to watch TV series from the Star Trek universe, or X-Files, or Dark Skies or Babylon 5 or whatever, the really interesting part often only started when we switched off the TV and started rather obscure discussions about possibilities, relationships, motives and causes in the universe or drew parallels to the actual world we were living in. And later, in high school I could be sure everybody had for example seen a certain comedy show on Monday night and a good deal of Tuesday morning was spent re-telling the jokes and mocking the guests he had on. Now, all of this is pretty much gone except for blockbusters and live events. Not only am I not able anymore to watch stuff with my brother (that’s the minor issue) but most of the time my friends have already watched episodes, seasons of current TV series (running in the US or UK and not on Austrian/German television) or movies alone already. Watching movies has been individualized. Or to say it in the cultural pessimistic way: the internet has destroyed the ‚fiction of the audience‘ within my group of friends, while creating a new and scattered audience connected entirely via ’social media‘. This leads to the sometimes odd situation where we meet and can’t talk about a TV series in a group anymore because one (usually me) is stuck at SE01E08, others are at SE03E01 and others again start to watch the whole series again from the beginning …

Anyways, 2010 has been a horrible year for me in terms of watching movies and TV series. I’ve watched less good stuff than I’d have liked to in the last few years already – with The Wire being a notable exception – but at least I went to the movies regularly. Last year however, my ‚moving pictures‘ diet was horrible. And as I love going to the cinema – heck, I’d pay to see the trailers – and usually enjoy watching series, I made the resolution to watch a little more, with quality considerations coming second. (There are some interfering variables in that development obviously, …)

What did I get exposed to so far? (Ok, some of those were December 2010 and I only list fiction here, but who cares …)

TV series

Modern Family

Great casting, witty, some easy laughs.

Pretty Little Liars

‚From the producers of Gossip Girl‘, this was called a mashup of ‚I Know What You Did Last Summer‘ and – surprise – ‚Gossip Girl‘. So far it’s entertaining in a Dexter kind of way. Not as subtle and more ‚American‘, high school-y and girly in every way, but still entertaining. Everybody is obviously extremely good looking and has and doesn’t keep a bunch of really dirty secrets, but hey.

The subtitle says „Men are the best medicine“ and from what I’ve seen so far, it’s really at about that level. Sometimes witty, mostly bland. Very popular.


Enter the Void

Enter the Void is a strange piece of film. It is most probably the most exhausting piece of film I’ve ever watched (Jerry by Gus Van Sant now holding 2nd place). It is at times annoying and frustrating to sit there and watch it. It goes on and on. It repeats points endlessly, it overly celebrates its own aesthetics, but, more than any other film this year (except for The White Ribbon even the second time I watched it), it made me think. About deep stuff and stuff that I usually don’t like to think about. Stuff like life and even more death. Enter the Void is a strong movie. One that could have been better, storywise, but one that made me feel something, even though if this means making me feel extremely uncomfortable at times.

Exit Through The Gift Shop

The Black Swan

I am not into ballet or dancing at all and my knowledge of classical music is very rudimentary. Still, I liked this one a lot. The dramaturgy, acting, sound and art direction made me sit in there absolutely tense, both of the times that I watched it.

White Ribbon

The White Ribbon is just a great film that you should definitely watch. I think the movie works well on the level of human universals, but it also gives an even better insight into some of the not so feel-good roots of German/Austrian culture.


A must watch if you can cope with someone using a gut as a rope. And with all kinds of other weird, violent and brainless stuff. Machete fits great in the whole Fortress Europe and WASP brain melt context, so it’s highly recommended.

El Secreto de sus Ojos

Underwhelming. I was pretty excited about this one, as it won the Academy Award in the year that The White Ribbon – one of the best movies I’ve ever seen – was released. I watched it in OV with English subtitles and had quite some troubles getting the Argentinian Spanish, so that might explain it, but I thought the film had incredible lengths towards the end. Plus, you could see the make-up of the ‚old‘ actors so clearly that I was taken out of the cinematic experience – which almost never happens to me.


Kirk Douglas has an enormous chin. The movie is very long. It’s not the best movie to start at 11 pm. Doesn’t feel overly Kubrick-esque.

Bran Nue Dae

Australian folklore apparently, but with some interesting twists. Stupid at times, rather lovely at others.


While I’m certainly not the right guy for …. (everything is a remix 2), I do believe that this kind of stuff exists, so I’d actually love to see a decent movie about the topic in The Wire-style.

The Kids Are Alright

From what I read and heard before, the film was promoted (at least here) as an independent piece from the US. I don’t know all that much about independent US cinema, but this film shouldn’t have to be called independent in any country. Sure, I get the context and setting of the story itself is ‚alternative‘, but the film itself is done in a rather standard way. It’s a mostly lovely piece of film, partly witty, quirky and funny, partly cheesy, but at no time does it feel or behave unexpected.

My Sassy Girl

I watched the film in Korean with English subtitles, so I spent quite a bit of time reading this one. There’s also a Hollywood version, so some of you might know it. The first half is quirky and funny, but the second half of the movie is just incredibly cheesy. Incredible.

The Grudge

I’ve seen this one before, both in the US and the Japanese version but was up for seeing it again as I recalled it being scary as hell. I was slightly less disturbing this time, but I had the feeling that the story was way more coherent last time I watched it. Strange.

Dude Where’s My Car?

Yeah, I’ve never seen that one before. Now I did. A concept movie, ridiculously stupid, in a sometimes good way. Should probably be watched again on a lazy Sunday afternoon with a pint, or 7.

About the ‚Science of Marketing‘

Posted in Brands and Business,communications,planning by thomas on the Januar 31st, 2011

At the moment a presentation and a video by Byron Sharp about the science of marketing are making rounds in the plannersphere. They are based on Sharp’s book „How Brands Grow. What marketers don’t know„. About this book Martin Weigel says:

If you want to buy one book this year to help you (or the marketer in your life) be a better a marketer, don’t buy all the data-devoid stuff that makes us feel cutting edge, or massages our egos. I suggest you read this one. It is full of proper data and analysis. And full of the stuff that as Sharp says, marketers should know, but many clearly don’t. Like double jeopardy, retention double jeopardy, the law of buyer moderation, natural monopoly law, etc.

It’s easily the most useful, challenging and illuminating book about marketing I’ve read in years.

I haven’t read the book yet, but after this enthusiastic review it is now lying on my desk. From what I can see, a lot of it is based on Andrew Ehrenberg’s work, which is not surprising, given that Sharp is at the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute. For those of you who don’t know Ehrenberg, who passed away last summer: he was the sage of marketing science, looking for and finding consistent marketing laws, most notably the Double Jeopardy law. He also wrote some interesting papers about advertising effects and a quite interesting comment in Strategy+Business called Marketing: Are you Really a Realist (free registration).

As shown in his work Ehrenberg is a passionate advocate of using the methods of physics in social science:

Even in a field supposed to be dominated by people’s impulses to buy – that of marketing – there are striking regularities … [yet] people seldom expect there to be law-like regularities in social science (‚Is it a science?‘) and therefore do not even look for them. (Ehrenberg 1993)

Sharp is promoting the same school of thought and you should definitely have a look at his talk.

Undeniably, law-like patterns as the ones he mentions in his talk are interesting. I am a huge believer in Ehrenberg’s view of advertising as being not so much persuading than nudging and that salience (in combination with widespread availability) is what often explains big brands better than anything else. However, with the nature of generalizations comes – I think – an exaggerated trust in what ‚the data‘ tells us, which might lead to some laziness in interpretation, analysis and understanding. After all, what ‚the data‘ doesn’t tell can’t be there, right?

Now this might sound like the sulky response of a ’social constructivist‘ (or any other ‚anti-positivist‘), but have a look at how Sharp presents his argument about Harley Davidson. He’s spot on when he says that Harley and Apple are the two brands always being mentioned as examples for cult-like loyalty and other brand anomalies and he rightfully dismisses these myths. However, when it comes to the Harley consumer segmentations he goes on to laugh about the fact that only few of Harley consumers are actually like one would imagine Harley riders, while the rest of them lives a more ‚regular‘ life – you know, the one without violence and drug trafficking. He argues then, that we spend too much time pampering the loyals and not enough time growing the others. Now, without having read the book, in arguing like that I think he omits that the 90% might only drive a Harley because they’d love to feel like the tough guy once in a while. And while I do know that this isn’t exactly an insight or new thought, I think it is quite a good accomplishment to commercially ‚reach‘ 9 times the people that are actually into the meaning you promote, the one your brand is perceived to (theoretically) stand for. This is – in my humble opinion – something that empirical marketing science couldn’t explain, because it’s not and won’t ever be in the ‚data‘.

The more you rely on generalizations, the more general your insights and understanding becomes. To fit a situation into your law, you have to chip away parts of what you want to explain.

So now I’ve got to read that book.


Ehrenberg, Andrew (1993): Even the social sciences have laws‘, Nature, vol. 365, p. 385.

Sharp, Byron (2010): How Brands Grow. What Marketers Don’t Know.

Traveling, Living and Life

Posted in experience,media, culture and society,Off Topic by thomas on the Januar 13th, 2011

Last week I finally managed to get the pictures from my travels over the last 2 years developed and this made me reflect a little on travelling and living abroad.

See, I was born in a small town called Braunau on the Austrian periphery, bordering southern Bavaria, so basically German periphery. (Paradoxically, this spot is referred to as the centre of Europe, geographically mind you).

View Larger Map

Now, this area isn’t exactly known for being open. It’s a rather rough and conservative area. Austria’s notorious freedom party was founded there and people still love to vote them.

I was always a rather curious kid and when I was 17 or 18, I was lucky enough to be sent to the London International Youth Science Forum for a couple of weeks by my high school, where I met students and pupils from pretty much all continents. Contrary to what the title of the event might suggest, this isn’t a pure nerd convention, but also a massive exchange of arguments about who brews/distills the best [insert alcoholic beverage here] in the world and other discussions like that. Anyway, the point is, it’s like a massive cultural fair, where you are shown 1:30 trailers of all kinds of countries, their culture, what is important to them and so on. So after that, I always wanted to travel. However, I didn’t only want to travel, but ideally also wanted live there at least a while to understand what’s going on and not only „look at“ it.

So I’ve been to Nicaragua for a few weeks during my civil service.

Target - hello goodbuy.
I did a road trip in the US.

Camp Nou
I spent a month Barcelona for a rather touristy attempt to learn Castilian.

Quan animiert den Professor.
I went to Hanoi for a few weeks for a summer university.

Good morning Vancouver!
I did a brilliant exchange semester in Vancouver.

Hungarian karaoke
I worked for three months in Vienna’s lovely and at least as grumpy twin Budapest.

And I spent a bit of time in Tanzania, doing a lot of the above.

Of course, these were all great experiences, among the best of my life, really. They made me smarter and wiser and culturally more aware and I miss them. I want more of them. (And I miss the sea, goddamn it.)

But upon reflection, I realized that all of this wasn’t all that brave or cosmopolitan or whatever of me. From the beginning in London, to Nicaragua to Budapest, there were either friends or other Austrians that travelled with me, or as in the case of Budapest, an Austrian planner was already there. (Ok, not in Tanzania, but that was just 10 days.) And ultimately, I always had a safety net, because all those stays abroad had a termination date. I knew that after this month in Nicaragua, I could go home and start with my university degrees instead of having to struggle with life there. I knew I didn’t have to live in Hanoi forever, but would fly back to cosy Vienna after the summer university. I knew I couldn’t stay in Vancouver to work or do a PHD or stay Budapest, because I „had to finish my studies“ at home.

It’s not like I ever packed my things and moved to really live somewhere else. So I’m curious how my urge to travel and live abroad will feel once I’ll have removed the university parachute.

5 answers about 2010

Posted in experience,Off Topic by thomas on the Dezember 28th, 2010

So after Rob started one of those memes that I actually find kind of interesting, Petar aka Niko Herzeg tagged me in his 5 answers to 5 questions about 2010.

It’s actually harder than I thought to come up with one decent answer to these questions, but I’ll give it a shot.

1/ Best single thing [personal &/or professional] you did/achieved in 2010.

Whenever ‚professional‘ comes up I have the nice and cosy ‚I’m still a student‘ excuse that I can hide behind, so let’s focus on the personal part.

To answer the question with the best single thing and still get two things into this, let’s call it „leaving the comfort zone“ (and I hate that phrase). The two things that fall into this category? The Great Football Giveaway in Tanzania (please donate a ball and spread the word if you think this is a good idea) was my first time in Africa, the first time I went somewhere without there being another Austrian/German speaking person there (in Vietnam, Nicaragua, Canada, Spain and Hungary, there always were colleagues or friends from there), and the first time without actually knowing anybody personally before meeting them at the airport at the destination. The project also included my first fundraising party and my first rent-a-location party in Vienna. It was one of the best things I ever did in my life.

The ‚other thing‘? Writing myself into the same academic group as she was in, getting to know her, finding her truly amazing and actually demonstrating interest instead of finding a lame excuse for not being around her. Best decision in 2010, period.

2/ Most shameful thing [personal &/or professional] you did/achieved in 2010.

I’m bad with this kind of stuff. I think I didn’t do many shameful things this year (unfortunately?), but there’s one thing I’m not necessarily proud of and it has something to do with commenting cynically on a – in my eyes – propagandistic facebook status update from someone who once was a friend and now thinks censorship is alright if somebody dares to criticize Austria’s hypocritical social democrats. Austria got two 8 year old twins, who then were deported to the Kosovo, out of their bed at 6:30 or something, by policemen armed with machine guns. It was filmed by activists and then the social democrats, who are the strongest party, have the president and the chancellor as well as the mayor of Vienna, and who also voted for the tightening of our immigration laws had the nerve to blame their coalition partner – the conservatives – for what was happening. – I made a cynical comment on a facebook post and it apparently ended an already fading friendship. Still not sure if it was the right thing to do.

Appart from that it’s a shame that I haven’t met my personal deadline for my bachelor paper … and that I had to go to the washroom to puke during a brunch with friends and partners who drove 300 km to see me.

3/ Ad industry scandal or scoundrel of the year.

The Future of Advertising. Apart from that the planner story that everybody thinks of anyways … Oh, and seeing a lot of people that are very talented being wasted in or not hired by agencies.

4/ Your overall rating for 2010 out of 10. [1 = shit / 10 = showoff]

8.5 – brilliant year in almost every aspect. Would have been a 10 if I had managed to finish my bachelor thesis.

5/ What do you think will be the most overhyped advertising related subject of 2011?

There’s no way I could put this into better words so please do yourself a favor and read #5 from Andrew / Northerns list.

I nominate (leaving out those who have been nominated anyways …)



Michael (didn’t you want to start blogging again?)



It’s Future of Advertising Time Again. About the (Allegedly New) Crisis of Advertising.

Posted in Brands and Business,communications,media, culture and society,planning by thomas on the November 26th, 2010

So apparently it’s „The Future of Advertising“ time. Again.

There’s a a Fast Company article with that title compiling interviews with a host of well-respected industry people circulating, that was as usual followed by a storm of retweets and opinions. While the arguments are all valid and interesting and while I certainly have an opinion about the topic myself, I immediately had to think of something I wrote in 2008 (in German) when I was analyzing the then darling of the advertising industry – ‚viral‘ advertising – for my bachelor thesis. So because I still think it’s true, I thought it might be a good idea to translate the piece. Here is the trimmed down version:

One thing that concepts like ‚guerilla marketing‘, ‚viral‘ marketing or ‚viral‘ advertising all have in common is a more or less implicit assumption of a crisis of advertising: ‚annoyance by advertising‘, ‚flood of advertising‘ and ‚avoidance of advertising‘ are the commonly used concepts in the discourse.

Say ‘design’ and people think Rams, Ives, Eames. Say advertising and they think Cillit Bang.

… Russell Davies wrote in his blog in 2008. And he’s certainly not wrong. However, people’s attitude towards advertising is a bit paradox. While advertising (in general) provokes exactly the above mentioned reactions, advertising (in particular cases) is often remembered with joy, as Zurstiege (2005: 26ff) shows in his research. While zapping and DVRs lead to growing pains for advertisers, there are hundreds of ads on YouTube with thousands or even millions of views. [At the point when I wrote this, there was no Old Spice or Write The Future to refer to but only a Gorilla playing the drums.] All this approaches like ‚viral‘ advertising, ‚viral‘ marketing, guerilla marketing and whatnot tried to fulfill their effect by packing themselves as an „entertainment present“ (Zurstiege 2007: 143) and to therefore counteract advertising avoidance and advertising annoyance.

I believe if you want to be successful in the world of viral, you need to play by the rules of entertainment, not the rules of selling.

(Kevin Roddy 2006)

Entertainment, however, isn’t exactly a new approach. All along, at least in theory advertising tried to bring outstanding things to the consumers‘ eyes. This is – after all, what led to the aestheticisation of advertising through the employment of renowned artists in the 19th century in the first place (Zurstiege 2007: 22f).

Leaving advertising annoyance and advertising avoidance aside for a second, there’s of course also a lack of trust in the effects of advertising. As a representative for this part of the discourse who’s better to quote than Philip Kotler:

The average American is exposed to several hundred ad messages a day and is trying to tune out. TV advertising is losing its effectiveness because of growing advertising clutter, the increasing number of channels, the availability of zapping mechanisms, and reduced watching of television by certain groups. The result is that marketers must consider other methods of getting consumer attentions.

(Kotler 2005)

This chain of reasoning – information overload, explosion of channels, media use – is found in pretty much every introducing statement of pretty much every alternative approach:

Because of an increasing amount of media and advertising, DVRs and the changed media use, even more since the rise of the internet, we need new methods to solve the crisis of advertising.

That’s how it goes. And be it online-advertising, PR, event marketing or the much quoted ‚integrated communication‘, all of them are united by the fact that they lay claim to the leadership role in clients‘ marketing budget. [And the same may be said about ‚transmedia‘ and ‚crowdsourceing‘ and whatever other approach …]. But while information overload might partly explain the development of new approaches that aim at media content spreading digitally, even this isn’t a new phenomenon. What we have institutionalized as ‚information overload‘ and ‚advertising clutter‘ already had a name in the 19th century: Schilderpest (’signboard plague‘) (Zurstiege 2008: 129).

Advertising was finished from the outset. [„Die Werbung war von Anfang an am Ende.“]

(Schmidt 2004: 53ff)

The accusation of lying, the persistant suspicion of manipulation, the ’sensory overload‘ and the identity crisis because of the supposed incapability to produce socially and culturally relevant outcomes (cf. Schmidt 2004: 54), are all derived from the social functional system advertising itself. [It’s in it’s DNA, if you want to say it like that.]

Advertising produces scarcity of attention by achieving attention. Advertising needs bad advertising to stand out with good. Advertising – as a system – necessarily produces its own problems and solves it by adapting to changing social conditions (ibid. 73f). Advertising – and this is also shown by the appearance of ‚viral advertising‘ [insert buzzword here] – lives on new problems which can then be opposed by the creation of new and differentiating approaches (ibid. 74). The crisis of advertising [and therefore the question about it’s future] isn’t new, but an essential part of the system, the permanently repeats itself under different circumstances.


  • Davies, Russel (2008): on the goodness and badness of advertising
  • Kotler, Philip: Advertising vs. PR: Kotler on Kotler.
  • Kotler, Philip/Bliemel, Friedhelm (2006): Marketing-Management. Analyse, Planung und Verwirklichung. 10., überarbeitete und aktualisierte Auflage. München [u.a.]: Pearson Studium.
  • Roddy, Kevin (2006) in Leonard, Devin (2006): Viral Ads: It’s an Epidemic. In: Fortune. New York: 2. Oktober 2006, 154. Jg., Heft 7/2006, 61.
  • Schmidt, Siegfried J. (2004): Die Werbung ist vom Anfang an am Ende. In: Die Depression der Werbung : Berichte von der Couch / Berliner KommunikationsFORUM e.V. Sebastian Kemmler … (Hrsg.).Göttingen: Business Village, 53-77.
  • Zurstiege, Guido (2005): Zwischen Kritik und Faszination. Was wir beobachten, wenn wir die Werbung beobachten, wie sie die Gesellschaft beobachtet. Köln: Halem.
  • Zurstiege, Guido (2007): Werbeforschung. Konstanz: UVK-Verl.-Ges.
  • Zurstiege, Guido (2008): Der Konsum Dritter Orte. In: Kai-Uwe Hellmann (2008): Räume des Konsums: Über den Funktionswandel von Räumlichkeit im Zeitalter des Konsumismus. Wiesbaden: VS, Verl. für Sozialwissenschaften.
(Guido Zurstiege and Siegfried Schmidt are renowned professors for communication, media and culture in Germany and among the few who have specifically focused on advertising.)

On „Changing Education Paradigms“

Posted in media, culture and society by thomas on the November 21st, 2010

Excellent talk by Sir Ken Robinson.

What I find most interesting is the fact that the system we live in seems to be so institutionalized that it kept working for quite a while, and still does for now, even though we haven’t put a focus on divergent thinking, nope, we even systematically destroy it and the life and openness it brings about. Montaner even goes so far as to say that the social and cultural capital our society has created appears to compensate what is usually measured as „declining intellectual capabilities“ – such as reading and maths – among my generation.

Standardization is in high demand for this system. The question is how long it’s going to survive.

Master Thesis Topic (update)

Posted in academia,Brands and Business,communications,media, culture and society by thomas on the November 20th, 2010

After getting a lot of useful comments (thank you!) on my initial brainstorming on possible topics for my master thesis I cut them down to three and handed in a description of three very broad topics, all with some more concrete research questions: (1) ‚Post-Postmodern‘ Uses of Brands and Media?, (2) ‚Continuities from Propaganda Theory to Planning:‘ and (3) Reception and Usage of ‚Transmedia‘ Narratives.

So here’s my translated description of topic (1), that I handed in before leaving and which has got a strong endorsement from the prof while I was in Tanzania.

‚Post-Postmodern‘ Uses of Brands and Media?

According to Holt (2002) there are two relevant branding paradigms in the 20th century. The first is called „Modern Branding“ and was based on a domineering, cultural engineering approach. It was dominant until the 60s, when the ‚creative revolution‘ around people like Bill Bernbach appeared.

Marketers made no pretense about their intentions in these branding efforts. They directed consumers as to how they should live and why their brand should be a central part of this kind of life. Advertisements shared a paternal voice that is particular to this era. By contemporary standards, these ads appear naive and didactic in their approach. This paternalism reveals that, at the time, consumer culture allowed companies to act as cultural authorities. Their advice was not only accepted but sought out. (Holt 2002: 80)

This modell – now being popularized by the TV series Mad Men – was inspired both by Freudian psychoanalysis and the scientific approach to advertising and persuasion at the time, provoked rising resistance in the 60s, with books like The Hidden Persuaders and other critical analysis appearing on bookshelves. With the increasing professionalization of the industry and knowledge about the branding paradigm more and more entering the public sphere, the public opinion was increasingly directed against the supposed manipulation of the individual.

Branding could no longer prescribe tastes in a way that was perceived as domineering. People had to be able to experience consumption as a volitional site of personal development, achievement, and self-creation. Increasingly, they could not tolerate the idea that they were to live in accord with a company-generated template. (Holt 2002: 82)

In reaction to the creative and anti-commercial countercultures of the 60s – and with that at the time when interpretative approaches started to challenge the predominant stimulus response thinking – a new branding paradigm emerged. Holt calls this paradigm „Postmodern Branding“. In a postmodern consumer culture, the role of branding would emerge from the supplier of a cultural blueprint – „How should I live?“ – to supposedly authentic, cultural ressources to be used for the identity projects of consumers who strive for independence from paternalistic and authoritarian corporations.

Postmodern consumer culture has adopted a particular notion of authenticity that has proved particularly challenging to marketers. To be authentic, brands must be disinterested; they must be perceived as invented and disseminated by parties without an instrumental economic agenda, by people who are intrinsically motivated by their inherent value. Postmodern consumers perceive modern branding efforts to be inauthentic because they ooze with the commercial intent of their sponsors. (Holt 2002: 84)

To produce these ressources in a distanced and commercially disinterested way, five branding techniques – also made public by Klein 1999 and Frank 1998) have emerged over time: (Holt 2002: 83ff)

  • Authentic Cultural Resources
  • Ironic, Reflexive Brand Persona
  • Coattailing on Cultural Epicenters
  • Life World Emplacement
  • Stealth Branding

All of these techniques however, are confronted with substantial contradictions. Ironic distance has been imitated without end and is now outdated, stealth marketing is getting more and more aggressive and reaching its limits, marketers are running out of counterculture content to tap for their campaigns as the authenticity market heats up, consumers are increasingly peeling away the brand veneer and „collectively, postmodern branding floods social life with evangelical calls to pursue personal sovereignty through brands“ (ibid.).

For Holt these phenomena (published in 2002 – before ’social media‘ even existed) pointed to an expiration of the postmodern branding paradigm. Whereas brands in the future would still have to offer authentic and relevant resources, authenticity won’t not be conveyed distance the brand from a profit motive, but through a role that Hold calls ‚citizen artist‘.

So brands will become another of expressive culture, no different in principle from films or television programs or rock bands (which, in turn, are increasingly treated and perceived as brands). […] Postmodern brands have little value in this new consumer culture. Because they rely so much on the cultural work of disinterested others and work so hard to deny that the brand itself stands for anything by itself (for fear of being tagged as cultural engineers), postmodern brands lack an original point of view that they can claim as their own. Rather than take a free ride on the backs of pop stars, indie films, and social viruses, brands will be valued to the extent that they deliver creatively, similar to other cultural products.

The citizen part on the other hand is concerned with the socially responsable behavior of corporations and their brands, basically answering the question of what is behind the brand veneer.


This topic and Holt’s only superficially covered hypotheses give rise to a lot of questions that might be covered in a master thesis. (Not all in one of course …)

  • What – to people – is authenticity in advertising and marketing communication? How is it operationalized? What are expectations?
  • How does authenticity translate in regards to aesthetics – from user-generated content to brands using a documentary style?
  • How does the use of digital, social networks (’social media‘) have affect the ‚corporate cool machine‘ as described by Holt in the postmodern branding paradigm. Is his hypothesis regarding brands being used in the role of citizen artists true? Or, more concrete: which range of uses of original, authentic and creative brand content can be shown? And in regards to the ‚citizen‘ part of the hypothesis: do people really look behind the brand veneer and if so, how?
Frank, T., 1998. The Conquest of Cool: Business Culture, Counterculture, and the Rise of Hip Consumerism, University of Chicago Press.
Holt, D.B., 2002. Why do brands cause trouble? A dialectical theory of consumer culture and branding. Journal of Consumer Research, 29(1), S.70–90.
Klein, N., 1999. No Logo: no space, no choice, no jobs ; taking aim at the brand bullies, New York, NY: Picador.
Mad Men – AMC. Mad Men. Available at:

Master Thesis Topics (beta)

Posted in academia by thomas on the November 1st, 2010

Universität Wien

When I said I wanted to go to Tanzania for the Great Football Giveaway, I knew this was going to be in the middle of my last winter term and I knew I’d miss one session of each my classes – including the master thesis seminar of my communication and media science MA. This is basically the last class of the program and is designed to prepare us for conducting the masters research and writing the thesis, give us some exposure to profs (that’s not that common here). However, for a lot of administrative reasons, 4 weeks into the semester we haven’t had a class yet and the first class will be held in a 3-hours session while I’m out there giving out footballs. So instead of me missing the third 1 1/2 hour session, we have until the 7th to deliver a 1-2 pages description of our topic and I won’t be there at the first session held.

Now as always, my problem is that I have more than one rough topic in mind. Some of them are advertising related, some of them are media usage related, some of them are historic and some of them are related to internal organization. So here I am, trying to get to one topic.

1) Use and Reception of (Post-Postmodern-)Advertising

This is basically inspired by Douglas B. Holt and his cultural research into branding and advertising. Holt stated in 2002 that there are 5 contradictions that contribute to the end of postmodern branding and that give rise to brands as citizen artists. He then goes on to hypothesize about a spectrum of brand and media uses that people would resort to. Now this topic is obviously huge, could use some empirical research and might be tackled from a lot of different perspectives but I’m not quite sure which one might be the most interesting and fruitful approach.

Subtopics of this bigger area of interest might be:

  • Building upon my bachelor paper an inquiry into the specifics of reception and usage of recommended/forwarded ads
  • An inquiry into the use of reality aesthetics in marketing communications (everything from user generated content to documentary)

2) Reception and Use of Cross-Platform Narratives (with a focus on gender)

I would have written transmedia here but as it’s the last thing sucked dry by the industry I’d rather stick to cross-platform. I find this topic quite interesting for a while now but it has never been a research focus of mine and it’s never been one of my institute. Still, something that Dan Hon said at TEDxTransmedia re-ignited my interest. He basically asked us to imagine what it would have looked like if Amelie would’ve gotten the „transmedia treatment“ just like Heroes, Lost and all the geeky or more „male“ franchises. And that prompted me to think about how the realities of cross-plattform narrative use and reception actually looks like, away from industry hype and glory.

3) Play and Abductive Thinking

We all know IDEO and are well-aware of the gameification hype so there’s no need to use a lot of words here. I’ve had a fairly interesting theory seminar about organizational comms last semester and also read a bit into organizational culture, management and organizational thinking styles. I think that play(ful communication) and abductive thinking might be something worth looking into from an empirical and theoretical perspective. But this is still very, very raw.

4) History lessons: Propaganda Theory vs. Planning in a Convergent Culture

Basically a look into historic developments and continuities. I had a very, very interesting lecture about the history and theory of propaganda last semester and have developed a strong interest into the relationship between conceptions of men and theories. Looking at the „perfect product claim“, social media etc I think a theorizing look back in time might be fruitful. But then again that might just be liking to sound smart.

So in case you’ve read this until here, if you’d chip in a thought or two that’d be much appreciated. Does it all sound like BS? Is it relevant or interesting to you? Has it been done before?

China in a picture – a little help for Rob needed

Posted in media, culture and society,planning by thomas on the Oktober 30th, 2010

So far Rob helped me out with all the however-annoying questions an aspiring junior can possibly ask. Now he’s looking for visual representations of China and is asking for our help.

Post an image that best embodies China from your point of view. And mention whether you’ve been to China or not.

He is usually very generous with his thoughts so this should be interesting, plus, as Andrew said, planning type people need to stick together and help each other. Andrea and Andrew already did it and you can too.

A representation of China then: Well, for whatever reason my first thought was rice. Somehow I seem to store countries pretty close with food. I think it is rather normal to form pretty strong associations to the food in countries where you’ve lived for a while. You spend a lot of intimate time with food and – as pretty much every mainstream dish of every country is available in every metropolitan region – „true“ „national“ food somehow turns into the representation of the larger concept. And becomes essentially a no-go anywhere else. Vietnam is Bánh cuốn, B.C./Canada is Salmon/Sushi, Nicaragua is Gallo Pinto, etc.

I haven’t been to China and I know embarrassingly little about it so my shorthand was rice. They invented it.

Rice bowl

But then again, Rob wasn’t asking for my mental shortcut but for what I think best embodies China and there my best shot would be something like that:
Beijing's Olympic Stadium - the "Bird's nest - in July 2007

A nice one for all kinds of projections one might have.