July 15, 2020
The first of a new series on sound. Alt. links: Apple Music or Spotify
An undisclosed island. He was on paradise, enclosed. Clothed in sand-lined pockets sewn onto sand-colored pants.
Nightfall in the cabin strikes the way the villagers do their bamboo with hand-ground axes to a rallying cloud of volcanic dust. A light island train trickles down the half-piped bamboo gutters lining a clean rubble road.
Fires twinkle in windows twixt the tall rice grasses rolling whispers down terraced hills. A small black bug looks up at the biped above or appears to the way one looks at the sky when the clouds shift ’fore continuing their own scurry.
The man is heavy an’ light, lifted from the neck like a diner syrup lever to press on amid unfamiliar trotting ground. Suppose it’s good here.
The man’s hungry, further off-road down-stream done rambling ’til light’s apparent in the distance. One chance at food this night. A parent in the distance, that sign with a plate and lotus and tall tiki torches splashing glow onto entrance rocks rounding up to the terrace.
The man’s decided here he’ll eat. The man’s me and I take a seat where the one waitress wipes confusion off a tired, friendly face with one swath splay of the menu. A stranger sits far back, outta sight, sipping a stick of tobacco. His embers dance in the distance against a deep black jungle wall, buzzing.
The night-dwellers, friends of the fag-dancer, flip conversation across another round table in the grass. I’m into my colorful meal.
She comes by again, dream-like archetype, the type to take you from one wistful slumber plot to the next an’ never to be seen in that form again.
“Excuse me, happiness?”
Now I’m scarfing a shrimp dish and hear this and get slammed by the heat of that rice doused in that question and thunder a thick reply from a throat satisfied by what it’d needed for some time until that moment. She was talking about the dinner.
As she grinned that kindly mouth-slice reserved for anonymous clientele and took plates and dashed noiselessly away, the man stared out across waves of rice. He’d eaten a whole field o’ that tiny tasteless fruit from the fringe of a tall green spire among maybe millions.
May 31, 2020
I, like Frank, consider the smell of unsmoked tobacco a momentary indulgence. I don’t purchase nor carry tobacco for the purpose of smelling it. But having smelled it before and revelled in its particular olfactory essence, I do appreciate the nostalgia it evokes of nonexistent times filled with deep thinking and even deeper gashes in firewood piled aside some cabin.
The razor held so delicately above both overtly looks and feels like a cigar. It was, at some point in the dearest past, crafted by Ursa Major.
This post is kinda sponsored. I didn’t get paid for it but received the razor handle aeons ago for promotion on my now-defunct television show. The product didn’t make it on air back in the day and it’s been plaguing my conscience ever since. If I were to ever be spiritually abducted into the realm of purgatoire de l’auteur, this should serve as karmic remittance.
I checked Ursa Major’s site and couldn’t find the razor. This is damn embarrassing. Alas, without knowing price nor description, I’ll tell you a bit about this fine piece of face-shearing wood. Perhaps you’ll find yourself perusing their skincare products and I’ll feel a smidgen better about putting off this review.
I despise ads and wouldn’t dare clog my beautiful blog with them. I put links to Ursa Major above in case you’re genuinely interested in ’em. They have an affiliate program but I am not part of it and these are not affiliate links.
It’s quite odd to show me shaving because the Ursa Major razor ain’t a razor at all—it’s a razor handle. That’s it. A lil’ piece of wood. It almost doesn’t make sense as a product, which is maybe why they ditched it in their lineup. Until it does make sense.
That wood feels good. It’s minimal, earthy, and decently designed. I’m all for buying sustainable, practical tools that match my vibe (or aesthetic or whatever). Ursa Major didn’t touch the functional part because they know others do it better. You can pop on and off disposable Gillette tops as you see fit. And that’s all there is to it.
Though the handle’s a bit of a collector’s item now, its simplicity says something about the company. Ursa Major cares about biodegradable goods that feel good to use and look good to have. Sustainable design. Do their personal care products cost a premium? Absolutely. Is that inaccessible price tier indicative of the quality of the potions inside the modern-outdoorsy designed canisters? That’s for you to decide. I lean on the side of niche-audience marketing in a subversive neo-capitalistic hellscape. Nah, the potions are cute.
Hey, I like our environment. I’ll back a conscious company any day. The Ursa Major razor handle reminds me of a quality leather wallet—an investment in lasting kit that’ll age right along with you. But my wallet’s not the size of the tree that was felled to make that handle. As a careful consumer I’d opt for a similar, more cost-effective brand like Tom’s of Maine. Come to think of it, Ursa Major is a Vermont brand. It could be Vermont’s answer to Tom’s of Maine. Could be I’m unaware of some turf war between New England personal care brands. In that case, before I become a plaid-donning political prisoner, know that I stand by Ursa Major’s site design over Tom’s. It’s much cleaner and the bear logo is substantially more huggable than my own name in stamp form.
Here’s one more photograph of me and the stubble cigar. My brother took all of these—thanks Kevin.
May 27, 2020
Sometimes you look at a word and it speaks to you.
I recently ramped up work with Gikken, a Berlin-based boutique Apple software company. Alex from Gikken introduced me to a newsletter called Dense Discovery. Upon reading Dense Discovery this evening, I tripped over an American indie magazine called Fifty Grande, wherein I was drawn to an article about folk artists living out of a van. I thought: “Hey, that’d be pretty damn cool to live out of a van.” It’s a thought I’m sure you’ve humoured at one point. In that article, I read the word congestion. It spoke to me.
Why is congestion speaking to me? It’s kinda gross. What does it connote? Mucus? Traffic? Blockage? I’ve dealt with an embarrassing amount of glottal mucus all my life, having been raised in an agrarian suburb. We’ve taken a turn for the intimate.
No, these superficial connections were not, in this instance, what first came to mind. For some reason I read that word like it was brand new. Thought of the raw meaning of it—what might be a definition stripped of allegiance to any particular congestive circumstance. I got all philosophical.
I studied comparative religion in college. My brother asked me on a walk today whether I’m an atheist. I won’t get into that here. Brought this up because my philosophy of religion courses used ancient allegories to illustrate spiritual concepts. Once meditated on a blueberry and felt it more intensely than certain prior sexual encounters. Blueberries’ll do that to ya.
Congestion is something we deal with incessantly. Congestion of the mind. I’m not sure where I’m going with this but I’m trying to unearth something via writing. Little thought purge. Ain’t that what they recommend?
Making sense of it
Nothing makes sense—that’s why it’s called making sense. You ought to manufacture the sense yourself.
Congestion is a temporary status. If a passageway were perpetually blocked it wouldn’t be blocked at all because it wouldn’t be a passageway to begin with. Unless it began as a passageway like some Egyptian tomb that subsequently crumbled and was to remain in ruin for near eternity.
Let’s agree that it’s temporary. Shouldn’t congestion then be relievable? It often is relieved. Can that relief be facilitated manually? If we are discussing mental congestion, then surely it may be. Phobia, for example, causes a congestion that takes gradual chipping away at to allow for the passage of… well, some inverse of fear. Writer’s block, however, simply takes:
- Two (2) parts bourbon.
- One (1) part amaretto.
- A spit of lemon juice.
- A dewdrop of maple syrup.
- Your evening mug met with ice.
It’s time to sleep. If you too are due for a snooze, may we both awake without congestion, mental or otherwise.
May 24, 2020
The beginning of a letter from Sol LeWitt to Eva Hesse:
Just stop thinking, worrying, looking over your shoulder, wondering, doubting, fearing, hurting, hoping for some easy way out, struggling, grasping, confusing, itching, scratching, mumbling, bumbling, grumbling, humbling, stumbling, numbling, rambling, gambling, tumbling, scumbling, scrambling, hitching, hatching, bitching, moaning, groaning, honing, boning, horse-shitting, hair-splitting, nit-picking, piss-trickling, nose sticking, ass-gouging, eyeball-poking, finger-pointing, alleyway-sneaking, long waiting, small stepping, evil-eyeing, back-scratching, searching, perching, besmirching, grinding, grinding, grinding away at yourself. Stop it and just do.
It sat on Frank’s desk. While he hated referring to alleged quotes for inspiration, he knew this was some bona fide correspondence and he liked the sounds of the words in the long list when said. Frank considered that he would willingly give up all of Sol’s suggested verbiage besides boning if it would mean he could do in the sense of accomplishing something rather than ing-ing about it. Then he pondered the disparity between boning and doing and wondered profusely which provided more agency to that being boned or done. Or whether it should be them rather than that, for that matter—for their matter.
The phone rang, as they tend to do. Frank spat his toothpick into the deforested hectare of felled wood-pike disarray fencing a lousy perimeter ’round his desk chair.
“Frank.” said Frank.
“Frank I need you to tell me what’s on channel nine. It’s dire. Frank. Frank? Can you hear me? Turn to channel nine. Be a dear and tell me what’s on channel nine. Frank dear do it now. I know, I know, thank you Frank.” said a high-pitched voice across the telephone line.
As Frank listened to his name leak out her lips a dozen times, he pinched and spun around the embossed brass nameplate at the edge of his desk. The more he stared at the letters, the less they formed the name he’d been branded with much like that cheap metal rectangle who wore it better.
Elsewhere on the desk, a sticky note read: MILK, CHICKEN. Was stuck to a stapler spread open by its hinges almost as wide as the legs of Kermit the Frog, who leaned crookedly on a can of ale weighed down by a straight razor shaft sticking out of it that directed a fleck of light from its blade onto a chiseled section of wood whittled by a worried pen tip whose cap escaped this microcosmic crime scene for the great abandon of the corner behind the waste basket. A projector was set up, searing the ceiling with a tired bulb whose luminescence shone obscene shadows built by what lay on its lens-like surface each day as an extension of Frank’s desk. The common lamp was on backorder for the second time since some mysterious late-night circumstance had hopelessly toppled it.
Frank didn’t smoke. He simply liked the smell of cigarettes and carried the same pack of double gold-ringed Rohnsteins around for aromatic comfort. He withdrew a stick and popped it into Kermit’s perpetual jaw-drop where it wedged into the stitch of the fabric at his puppety gullet.
“You still have my remote, Wendy.” said Frank.
“I…” Wendy trailed off.
“The hole!” Frank shouted opposite the receiver, to the empty room.
“Ah that. Let me see…”
The wall on the right rumbled a bit. Something rolled from a height and thudded on the floor. Papers shuffled. Then, a dot of red light appeared through a pencil-thin poke in the wall just under a nail-hung gloating plaque.
Nothing happened. Frank picked an apple core from a little plastic dish and lobbed it at the wall, striking the plaque so it spun on its nail and dislodged, clapping on the ground.
“Eh fuh,” Frank mumbled.
The light dot shone again, longer. Then off. Then on. It blinked. In the opposite corner on a stout refrigerator box, a pale black screen jittered to life. Though the stodgy man had big dreams and an even bigger ocular prescription, Frank had a small TV.
Wendy suctioned her ear up to the wall, listening as she held steady the remote control and lathed its channel button over and over.
“WALNUTS AND CHERRY OATS. ADULT CER…”
“WANTED TO KNOW WHO SHE WAS. SO I TOLD HER. SHE THOUGHT SHE COULD GO DOWN TO THE LORY DISTRICT AN…”
“SA-VANVANVAN RA-DUNDUNDUN SVAAA!”
Frank kicked his feet up. Wished she’d stayed on the orchestra. He watched the channels turn from the doubles back to single digits and up toward nine.
06, 07, 08…
May 20, 2020
I worked on something with someone a while ago. Sometime later, they reached out about a project they wanted me in on but provided no context. Secrets make life interesting.
As a test, they asked if I could provide a piece of copy to match the marketing speak of a company called The J. Peterman Company. Of course I could.
“Never do free work” is the advice I ignored in this scenario, wanting to prove to this somewhat stranger and potential business partner that I was worth my salt. Though a portfolio provides free entry to one’s entire salt mine, I decided to fuck it and have fun writing something in the voice of J. Peterman. Not free work—free play.
Selling a t-shirt
For mister algorithm. Greatness demands a clean slate.
Everything you cherish was made by someone comfortable. Someone practical, yet wildly creative. A furnace scrubbed of yesterday’s ash ready to rage again into the future.
A hardened minimalist doesn’t wear their heart on their sleeve. They wear their mind on their chest. Thought armour.
Speaking of chest, the Pragmatic Tee (No. 1023) sports a subtle front pocket. The shirt for every occasion knows that every occasion involves a bit of paperwork. Slide a movie ticket in there. Your visa to Cambodia, where you’re slated to scour the jungle for the fairest smelling lotus. A matchbox from that dim basement bar at The Goring where the man in snakeskin boots scribbled a cryptic address.
The tee is made for Living. Double-lattice officer sleeve seams. Singed interior folds for minimum friction. Quarter turn in-cuts and precision-measured waist length so your abdomen won’t get chilly with up-stretched arms gripping an aluminium helicopter skid. Let go when ready. You calculated the drop perfectly. Made in Indonesia.
Mystery man enjoyed the blurb, then “Can you write something similar for a vacation rental as well?” Ah damn okay I guess. I found a photo of a fancy little Montanan cabin that reminded me of the game Firewatch. Great game, by the way.
Selling a vacation rental
Montana, nature’s mistress. A winter white canvas stretched with flecks of sleeping timber and the humming tummies of silent hibernation. Where a silk wind is your closest friend.
Some folks take holiday when they’ve had enough. You’re the one who hikes to the top and doesn’t feel quite finished yet.
Whitefish Lookout takes you there. To the top. And then some. Three more flights some. It’s a candlewick in the stillness of landscape erased by slow snowfall. Safety in height. Cloud comfort.
The only danger? You’ll make Bond villains jealous. ’Less you invite them in. Impress ’em with Montana mountain vodka chilled in chipped ice from the lake down the forward footpath.
It’s a lookout because it looks out for you. Takes good care to. Sturdy electricity for smooth-pumping heat vents. A full kitchen decked with the right tools. Aged, air-dried timber fit with natural pine sap. Set it alight. Breathe in.
You’ll book a week or so at Whitefish, maybe longer, but you won’t take your time there—she’ll take it. Sew your time right into the fibers of woven thistle rug adorning her hardwood base. Walk barefoot across your own, personal eternity.
It’ll cost a bit to get here, but then so will any rejuvenating jaunt. What you’ll really pay with is that bit of soul left behind to revel with the rest. Maybe yours will play cards with Roosevelt among the pines, who can really know for sure?
He liked it. I enjoyed writing it. Great! We hopped on a call (I hate that phrase) and discussed the secret project. It was secret no longer. In fact, I’m currently working on it. Will it see the light of day? Perhaps. But you’ll have to write two creative bits for me to find out.
Nah, I’ll let you know when the time’s right. Or not at all. Some somethings turn to oncethings then to nothings. Doesn’t everything, eventually?
January 25, 2020
Welcome to an incomprehensive case study on influencer marketing by yours truly. It involves a steak that’ll crack your chompers, Saudi Arabia, Indiana Jones, millions of followers, thousands of dollars, and a dirty river somewhere in southwest England.
In 2019, I was working on Setapp. If you’re not familiar, it’s a SaaS product for Mac apps. I wrote a good chunk of the website, including the tagline and description right up front.
You found Setapp. The frontier platform that packs 170+ Mac apps into just one. A personally curated membership for $9.99/mo.
On the growth marketing team I was the, er, Full Stack Copywriter. The real title’s a bit different, but full stack sarcastically well-describes the breadth across which my texts covered the product.
Setapp had been around just under two years when I joined. The marketing budget was relatively huge due to funding from the company’s other, more stalwart product. We were throwing bills at people to promote Setapp, but we couldn’t get them to drip down the funnel into full membership because the product lacked real value.
We had a lot of room for experimentation with a bubbling marketing budget. The backlog was long but made of safe tasks and one-offs. I wanted to take a risk, reaching beyond our usual door knocks and into completely new audience territory. Here’s what happened.
At Setapp, the marketing team frequently contracted tech YouTubers to talk about how great Setapp is. This type of influencer marketing is only effective to an extent. Our audience is savvy and can see through paid promotion. In consumer nations, buyers are ever wiser about seeking authentic reviews and cutting through common advertising sewage.
My brother Kevin is inspired by travel influencers and content creators. The made-it’s of those pectoral fellows and fancified dames often promote products. But if you read the comments carefully, picking through the weeds, you can frequently spot jealous types or aspiring creators who are so damn curious about what equipment their idols are using to achieve such salivating shots. As if buying the exact camera and lens could somehow transport them to a Parisian rooftop with sideshow doves, caramel skies, Cartier watches and a pearl-toothed posse.
Content creation is at the core of Setapp. So is digital nomadism. Needing only your trusty Mac and a hearty imagination to get to those peculiarly clean roof cushions. I’d have those tiny, coincidental social media stars puff up Setapp.
Ads smell bad. We avoid them like a fart. And like a fart, it’s not always detectible when one’ll come along. So we install blockers. We click skip. We just close the damn page.
Is tasteful, authentic, thought-provoking product placement is the ideal? Or, is it the idol?
You’ve seen Indiana Jones. The one with the big rolling stone and the stout gold screaming lady. If not, pretend you have and don’t tell anyone you haven’t, then watch it.
To the Setapp growth marketing and PR teams, my pitch was this. Have rocks made like little Jonesian relics with the Setapp logo. Send them out to Instagram bigshots. Remember the tagline? You found Setapp. The influencers would play it like they’d discovered the relics, then spurt on about how they use Setapp to logisticize their journeys and edit the almighty, orgasmic content. Their audiences would be mystified and not the least bit offended by the authentically-placed stones set perfectly in their Adobe-augmented natural settings.
To pull this off, I’d need two main things: the rocks, and the people to show off the rocks. I didn’t have a budget for this campaign, just a “tell me the cost and I’ll let you know”. Setapp’s got a dime or two for the fountain.
I spent an hour googling stone masons and emailed a few solid options with the brief. After narrowing down to three carvers intrigued by the idea, I had them send images of the type of stones they’d use. All of them were fantastic, but one fossil photograph really caught me. It drew me in.
Ben Russell, known professionally as The Dorset Stone Carver, was my man. Ben “The Rock” Russell. Benny Rockwell. B Rock. He sent me photos of moss-dripped river rocks still wet with sheen. They were as I’d imagined, found relics. He told me he’d gone on a walk with his doggo and sniffed ’em out of a stream in southwest England. These were it. I set Ben to chop-chipping straight away.
Next. The influencers. Kevin supplied me with a list of his go-to guys and gals. I must have sent around 40 emails. Some went to the camera food directly, others went to their managers. I received quotes for one Instagram post with an accompanying story that would reference-link to Setapp. Please sip some liquid. The numbers I got back will eject it forcefully from your mouth hole.
The most expensive of the bunch, for one post with story, was $125,000. Yeah.
Most ranged from $2k to $20k, which is still a yikes amount of dough. Lower price range accounts had 120k+ followers and the higher tiers were in the millions. I was more interested in engagement ratios and authentic comments and audiences.
For a first run, we went with three folks. Two of them with more than a million followers and one with a bit more than 100k. They’d have full creative control so the content would match their brand aesthetics. I’d approve the photos and the captions. They’d just have to use our UTM-loaded referral link for conversion tracking and the hashtag #youfoundsetapp.
This part was unforeseen. Setapp is based in Kyiv, Ukraine. It’s known to be one of the most corrupted places in Europe, despite getting bits better over the years since certain revolutions that further separated the country from Russia. Bureaucracy is a pain in the booty. And getting things through customs can be tricky.
When a box of 20 paper towel-wrapped stones with mysterious symbols on them arrived at the border, they were held up. I had to troubleshoot with Ben and we had to explain the project to the border agents. Don’t try shipping your cocaine in cut rocks.
When the rocks came through, some time was lost. Influencers were traveling around as they do and had to scrap ideas about how to integrate the rocks in their feeds when they’d leave a place having expected the rock to arrive. With the help of a very patient office manager, we shipped rocks around the world to various drop points ahead of when the phone-famous figures would arrive. We often missed the delivery mark. Despite slight lost collateral, it’s romantic to think of the missing rocks floating around a shack in Switzerland or a Bali bungalow. The lost relics make the found relics far more authentic. Unplanned serendipity.
You’re wondering how these puppies look. These pricey posts. Scroll on.
The first of the bunch. Jack Morris lives in Indonesia and this photo was taken at his terrible office. Who’d want to work there? The fresh air, natural light, smooth wooden desk and tickly Babylonian hanging vines. Sandals and hand-carved sundries. Nasi goreng for breakfast and coconut cocktails til dark. His rock is held in front of the majestic Mount Agung. I had the pleasure of meeting Jack by his home. Friendly guy and more down to earth than I’d expected.
Sam Kolder sets himself in Hawaii among the hang gliders and sharks. Poke bowls and pig-pits. Kevin’s gotten leid there. This photo, however, was taken in what’s quickly becoming the wealthy tourist where-to, Saudi Arabia.
Not least, Slater Trout and his trapezii. A muscle-padded paddler and competition-winning surfer who shot some Setapp relic photographs in the States’ hot springs.
Jack set the style and the others took note. This kept the content consistent while still residing within each of the influencers’ own brand styles. Couldn’t have turned out more brilliant. The comments are where it really gets interesting. They’re the meat of the posts, what really matters. Mmm, Setapp meat.
You’re not blind, my screenshots are rasterized, sorry about that. The steak reaction is hilarious. I love it. It’s this kind of response that sparks meme fuel. It also shows that the audience wasn’t offended by the advertising and could be playful right back.
Some sniffed out that it was an ad while others weren’t sure. This tinge of ambiguity is exactly what I was going for, but it’s also important that the brand message got across successfully, which it certainly seems to have.
Others got pinched by the mystery of the relics, realizing that they must have been part of their celebrity’s adventurous lives. The rocks piqued brand interest, naturally.
And then there were those who named Setapp directly, promulgating the product further in parallel with famous promoters. Influencer marketing done right. Done well? Well done. I prefer medium-rare.
I did warn you that this would be an incomprehensive case study. That’s because I’ve left Setapp and no longer have access to their analytics. Unfortunately, I can’t demonstrate ROI or throw conversion rates at you. Fortunately, numbers can be dry to some and you won’t have to dodge heavy airborne statistics. I like to look at this lack of closure in a different light, because marketing campaigns are worth more than their charts.
Any PR person worth their nutgraf will tell you that brand associations go deep. Setapp has now been seen by millions of content creators through the eyes of their idols. Well, their idols’ idols. The rocks. And each of the posts are immortalized on their respective feeds due to a removal contract clause. The You found Setapp. stones turn yet another SaaS product into a dream-creation machine. A mini tool of tools for personal growth. And achieving your Dubai-dancing dreams are worth far more than Setapp’s monthly sterling setback.
Couldn’t resist the subhead.
Manufactured value or produced product passion? This exercise in influencer marketing was not cheap, but to make money you’ve gotta have it. I’m still wrestling with the moral implications of selling a dream, as I don’t use most social media partially for this purpose. It’s dirty business. But if you believe in what you’re selling and rub the snake oil on yourself, you should be showing it off.
Setapp may form into something more useful down the line. For now, it saves creators and nomads a dime if they use a million apps and would save more subscribing to a rental service than paying for the tools directly. I enjoyed pondering ways to get it to people who’d find it practical, and really hope some folks found it through this campaign. For Setapp to stay hard as the world-traveling rocks that bear its symbol, it’ll have to innovate and listen to its caring member community.
It was difficult to bridge the physical world with the digital to promote a software product, but it was well worth it. Potential Setapp members could better understand that the service might provide more than the sum of its apps. When appealing to their audiences, good marketers must look deeper than demographics and where those traits intersect with product value. The rock campaign was risky for a reason. It bet on the idea that app users don’t want to be at their desks staring at a searing screen. They’ll use their apps as a means to make it, self-marooning somewhere in paradise.
A thanks to Ben, Jack, Sam, Slater, and Team Setapp.
I’m looking for my next project to pounce on. Email me or fly over to Twitter. For a little ding every now and then on my latest posts and ponderings, subscribe. And if you ever find one of the missing relics, make sure it’s not a horcrux before displaying on your own darling desk.