Sunday, December 21, 2008

Christmas hustle

This post is going to be a little different than other ones because I feel like my week really wasn’t that interesting due to a heavy workload, and I had a few thoughts while Christmas shopping that I thought I should try and write down. Partially to see what other people’s opinions are on them, and partially to organize what I was thinking and make it a little more cohesive in my tiny mind.

Yeah I’m in advertising so I write in sentence fragments, hope that doesn’t upset any grammar enthusiasts.

With that being said, here’s the week update part. We had our company Christmas party on Tuesday. Because it was, well, on a Tuesday and I was so busy at work this week I really didn’t party at it the way other people did. Apparently a whole crew of people kept on partying until 5 in the morning. I was in my bed by around 11 pm.

Fast forward to Friday night. Me and my buddy Rory went to go see Dragonforce. It was at the Croatian cultural center, and was packed. I wasn’t sure what to expect because I didn’t really know much about them, but it was easily one of the best shows I have ever seen. Seriously, if you ever hear that they’re coming to your town go see them. Plain and simple the band puts on an amazing show. Not only are all the members of the band bordering on virtuosity, but they all perform while jumping around, dancing and generally just partying on stage. It’s so refreshing to go to a show where you aren’t expecting much and be completely blown away. There’s been way too many times I’ve gone to see a band I like and they just stand there and act too cool for school. I can’t say enough positive things about the show.

Saturday, woke up a little hung over, went for breakfast at Sophies then went downtown for some Christmas shopping. Went down to Robson, into Gas town, through all the malls, and ended my day at a small restaurant called Brioche for an amazing seafood soup. Brioche is a great little restaurant that serves great food for fair prices. Everything from ham and brie sandwiches to venison stroganoff.

Now here’s the part of the blog entry where I run off on a tangent about something I was thinking about while in the midst of the Christmas shopping bustle. You might want to stop reading if you’re a communist or one of those people who hates marketing.

I am completely amazed by great fashion marketing. This doesn’t necessarily mean Fendi and Prada, but companies like American Apparel as well. More and more we’re moving to a world where half (or more) of buying the product is the experience of buying the product, I’m sure there’s a trendy word for it somewhere like post consumerism or something but it really amazes me how some companies do it so well and others seem to do it so miserably. Plain and simple, we often buy things from places because we think they’re cool places.

Take American Apparel as an example, they’ve made a blank t-shirt a cool, hot item to have. On top of that, despite no visible branding, they can still have people buy their shirts for $30 instead of a similar one from Fruit of the Loom for $10. Now I understand that there’s something to be said for their fits compared to say a Fruit of the Loom shirt. But even if Fruit of the Loom fixed their fits to be more like AA, I guarantee people would still go with the AA ones. The reason being they have a cohesive brand identity that is just straight up genius. Though it will probably never win awards, they’ve nailed down a particular coolness to everything they do that just gets kids drooling. The biggest part in my mind was the Terry Richardson-esque photography that started to adorn their advertising. On top of that, they used models in those “girl next door” photos who work at their stores. What happens next? Every hipster kid wants to work at their store. They literally have casting calls for their stores in Vancouver….casting calls to work a minimum wage job. The smartest part is the brand perpetuates itself. Get hipster kids working there, hipster kids will want to buy stuff there, the non hipster kids want to be cool and start shopping where the hipster kids shop.Voila.

All the stores I saw that were packed with people have something in common, a clear brand message.

American Apparel – “wear this stuff because horny hipster kids wear it and they’ll think you’re cool.”

Urban Outfitters – to an 18 year old kid this place looks like the hip downtown dream loft your cool older brother has. Equal parts irony, kitch and style.

Holt Renfrew – “This stuff IS as important as it seems, so you better appreciate it”

This by no means is meant to show any disrespect to how much the fashion of things actually matters, especially with Holt. But at the same time a perfect example is Urban Outfitters. They sell Levi’s jeans, the same cuts you can buy from the Levi’s store. But I guarantee you to millions of kids the ones sold at Urban Outfitters are considered cooler than the ones sold at the Levi’s store.

On the other side of the coin are companies that fail miserably at this. Take Sears for example. When I think of Sears I think of Dockers pants and fuzzy slippers. It’s a place I go to when I need to get a gift for someone in their sixties. By trying to be a jack of all trades, they’ve mastered none, and personally I don’t see how they’ll continue to exist. To the boomer generation this brand identity is less important. They grew up in a time and place that is a world apart from the one people in Gen Y grew up in. My dad told me when he went to elementary school there were kids who didn’t have shoes, others were lucky if they got two meals a day. Nowadays we don’t see those forms of poverty as consistently (if at all) in Canada. And just like Maslow said, once some needs get fulfilled, we move on the next ones. The commercial side of this is simple, whereas we used to say “I really need a shirt, my old one is ripped” we now say “I want a new shirt, I got a ton, but they aren’t cool anymore so I want something a little fresher”. Now lets bring this back to the scenario of Sears.

When people want a shirt, sure, go to Sears. When people want a cool shirt Sears doesn’t have what you’re looking for simply because it’s not a cool store. So if my dad wants a collared shirt, Sears seems like a fine option. For me, I’ll look other places. By having no brand experience when you’re in a Sears (and definitely nothing even relatively cool), they essentially comodify all their products. Once again, this is fine for boomers, but how do they plan to connect with our generation once the boomers go away? In a world where people buy things less because they need something, and more because they want to feel something from the purchase they really have to pick up their game. Other department stores are taking note, a great example is Target who have contacted top designers to do lower end lines for them.

I just find the way fashion companies in particular communicate with their target markets completely fascinating. I would love to see how these brands get developed from the insider perspective. Building the identity of a fashion store/label/company would be so cool. With that being said if you have 20 million dollars sitting in your pocket that you want to start a fashion company with, I’d be happy to head up your marketing department.

Did I miss something? Am I looking way to into this? I’m interested to hear what other people think of this.

I apologize in advance to all those Naomi Klein wannabes that think what I just wrote was disgusting.

Also, Ben Mills wrote an interesting entry at his blog about the controversy in regards to Obama’s invocation at his inauguration.

Sunday, December 14, 2008


Well it’s been a pretty quiet week. I’m not going to lie, I’ve definitely been feeling the effects of winter lately. Specifically the darkness. I can deal with the rain, the dark is another story. Right now the sun is rising at around 8 and setting at 4. That’s 8 hours of sun. It’s also the 8 hours I’m at work during the week and can’t enjoy the sun. It also snowed yesterday too. One funny thing about Vancouver is how incredibly unprepared the city is for even the slightest snow fall. You see some of the weirdest car accidents because they don’t salt the roads. Icy roads + hilly streets = moving trucks slipping down the street into parked cars. I actually saw that happen last year.

With all that being said I thought I’d do a recap of a trip me and Christy did in October to Tofino. For people who don’t know, Tofino is a small fishing town on the west side of Vancouver Island. Lately it’s become more of a tourist town due to the amazing nature and surfing.

To get out to Tofino from Vancouver, you have to take a ferry from Tsawwasen or Horseshoe bay then drive from Nanaimo. The ferry over is cool in itself, but we got up super early so I was trying to sleep more than enjoy all the little islands you see on the way.

Once we got into Nanaimo we decided that since we hadn’t been to the island we’d take our time on the drive and check stuff out.

Our first stop was Englishman river. A river right near the city of Nanaimo. We walked around a bit, checked out the river and the giant trees and Christy’s paranoia over a grizzly bear attack first appeared. This paranoia of hers would continue to rear its head through our trip, but more on that later.

The next stop was an awesome market called Goats On The Roof. This place was a bit of a blast from the past. When we first drove up to it a bunch of memories flooded. I had visited it a long time ago when I came out to the island on a family trip but I had forgotten about it. The market itself was amazing. On top of fantastic produce, local cheeses and meats they were all at waaaaaay lower prices than you’d ever see in Vancouver. I wish I took photos of it but I still remember a big old bushel of fresh chanterelle mushrooms. A real specialty of the island due to all the rain.

After that we started our trip across the island in earnest. Half the fun about going to Tofino is the drive. Before you get to the halfway point of the island you’ve already passed amazing lakes, giant trees, wicked waterfalls and awesome mountains. But the second half of the drive is just straight up insane.

After Port Alberni (the halfway point of the drive) we stopped at a salmon fishery. Since it’s spawning season we could just sit there and take photos of all the salmon jumping around. Awesome!

After that the road goes beside a whole bunch of other rivers, lakes and mountains. The rivers are the craziest. crystal clear water and you can see trout swimming around everywhere. The only problem was that during one of our riverside stops a beautiful silver rainbow trout jumped, which Christy in her hyper paranoid state somehow mistook to be a grizzly bear. I’m pretty sure, judging by Christy’s form while sprinting away from the river that she hadn’t done much running in her lifetime. She was running like a girl right down to the flailing arms and whiney shriek. After 10 minutes of hyperventilating and an explanation regarding the differences between land mammals and freshwater fish we were back on our way.

Tofino itself is a little quieter than I expected considering everyone in Vancouver has mentioned they’ve been there at some point or another. But we got a sweet deal on a hotel right near the marina.

The next day we checked out the town but there wasn’t much to check out. Grabbed food at a place that had a wicked oyster dish. Then went off to check out the seaside. One of me and Christy’s favorite things to do is basically stare at nature stuff. There were tons of tidal pools with all sorts of awesome nature stuff in them. Especially star fish. The biggest star fish I’ve ever seen. I even saw a few star-of-david-fish. Like full on 6 tentacles. Also we managed to see a black bear on the beach (it’s the fuzzy black dot on the beach). Grizzlies, or even fish impersonating Grizzlies scare Christy down to the bone, but with a black bear she was trying to move closer for a better shot. This goes for everyone out west too. People treat black bears out here like I treat raccoons. There’s no fear of them and more than anything, people are unfazed when they see them. I don’t get it. It’s a BEAR!

We also checked out some of the rain forest. A great place to take black metal photos. Blah blah blah more big trees. It’s terrible to say but eventually you get desensitized to it. Like when you’re in Europe and by the third old church you’re kind of over it. Though it was nice finding out a little more information about a fungus I suffer from.

Part of our accommodations included a free trip to go whale watching. Given it was a chilly mid-fall day they bundle you up in some of the wickedest attire ever. Give it 5 years and Japanese people will be dressing like this all the time. They take you out in a small metal zodiac, we had about 12 people on ours. It wasn’t long after we got out there that we saw our first whale. Our guide got a bit ambitious and decided we should get a closer look. At this point I was pretty psyched, we saw a whale, success! It seemed the whale we found was a real curious one. And decided to COME UP TO THE BOAT. The whale came right up to the boat and was probably about twice as long as it. At first it took a look at us, then decided to swim under the boat and actually bump it. At one point it stuck it’s head out of the water and our guide scratched its chin with a brush. It was one of the coolest things ever. Wild animals are awesome. It was only after the living submarine swam away that our guide said “Yeah if he really wanted to he could’ve slapped his tail and destroyed this boat”. Oh yeah and we saw an island of sea lions, but seriously after seeing a whale like that I probably didn’t appreciate it the way I should.

All in all the trip was amazing and left me itching to go out there again sometime soon. Next time though I’m bringing my fishing rod. Also, I tried to include photos in here but seriously they do no justice to how beautiful the island is.

Oh yeah, and after doing a bit of research I found out that Grizzly bears aren’t native to Vancouver Island. Maybe Christy got confused because the rainbow trout was wearing a bear mask.

Monday, December 8, 2008

This week was kind of a quiet one. Basically every year our company has a retreat where we go away for 2 days to a place called loon lake (since I know I’ll get called on it, yes I did look the lake up and it’s stocked with a ton of rainbow trout) and have discussions about how the last year has gone as well as little mini speeches about how to we can improve certain things and stuff like that. Since the retreat is on Thursday and Friday, We had to get 5 days worth of work done in 3 days. Still it was definitely worth it.

Once we got to Loon lake we did all sorts of team building activities like casual drinks, shotgunning and even shotgunning competitions. What a great way to bring a company together. It was a good time, though my stomach wasn’t really right so I didn’t jump into the festivities as much as some people.

Got back to town on Friday to celebrate Christy’s last weekend in Vancouver before she goes back home for the holidays. Went out to a wicked French restaurant but I didn’t bring my camera so you’ll just have to take my word for it that it was a good time.

On Saturday Christy was super hung over and I was still having a lot of problems with my stomach but I still wanted to try and do something. Considering it gets dark here now around 4 pm, I thought I’d walk down to Granville Island to try and at least get out and enjoy the daytime. I’d say “Get out and enjoy the sun” but December sunshine in Vancouver is a rare commodity. Stopped by some of the local haunts on the strip near my house, including the music store, and the comic shop. One thing I’ve noticed about this city is that the music poster art you see on the day to day is really great. It’s just nice to see cool stuff like that in public, compared to Toronto where the posters are the more standard band name in capitals on some horrid neon paper.

After the posters I walked through a district of town I like to call the “Maybe Vancouver is a little more shielded from the recession than the rest of Canada” district. And after that I made it to Granville Island. Granville Island, if you haven’t been to Vancouver before, is an area made from the old industrial waterfront industry buildings that they turned into sort of a tourist spot. I think it was all dolled up for expo ‘86 but I could be wrong. It has a marina, all sorts of shops, and one of the best food markets I’ve ever been to.

I could do a giant essay about how much I love good food, and living in BC I’m really lucky to have access to some of the most amazing seafood, produce and well, everything. On top of the obvious seafood, BC is really big on eating local and organic, as a result there’s a ton of local cheese makers, meat curers, wineries, basically everything. Feel like local organic buffalo mozzarella or elk prosciutto? No problem. Want to try the local oysters? Which of the 14 varieties at Lobster man do you feel like (the local favorites are the kishus)? One thing that doesn’t get the full cred it deserves out here is black cod, or sablefish (they’re both the same thing). Salmon and trout get all the love. I’d never had it until I got out here but it’s amazing. You can get it at most fish stores and restaurants either as is or smoked, when it’s smoked it still needs to be cooked but it keeps such a bold flavor despite the fact it’s a light white fish. Seriously if you ever get out here, order the sablefish, it’s unbelievable. Another nice thing about it too is that its fishery is really well maintained and sustainable.

Looking at all the food made me hungry so I went to the cheap Mexican stand at Granville. Awesome enchiladas for 6 bucks. Despite being interrupted by the two most terrifying gingerbread men ever, the food was good as usual.

After being happy with getting out and walking around in spite of the crappy weather, it was hilarious to see that the weather really turned around on Sunday. The day I spent inside watching NFL football.