Just Say No To Bad Swag

I recently received a letter from a well-known “automobile association”, thanking me for being a member for the past twenty years.  Just to be clear, the only reason I continue to be a member is this: about once a year, I need a jump-start, or I lock my keys in my car and need a locksmith, or I need a tow, or a friend needs a jump-start, locksmith or a tow. (Pro tip: you can utilize your membership benefits, even if its not your car, as long as you are a passenger in the vehicle.)  The membership pays for itself with the money that I save.

The letter also informed me that, in appreciation for my 20 years of loyalty, I should stop by the nearest office and pick up my free license plate frame, informing every driver that is behind me that I was a 20 year+ member of the association. Ummmm, no thank you.  What good does this license plate frame do for me? Is an attractive woman going to ask me out me on a date when they see it?  Will it get me out of a speeding ticket?   No, its just more marketing for the company. Consider this my first example of “bad swag”.

Swag“can mean a lot of things; in this blog post, it means promotional merchandise.

Second example: I received junk mail from an automobile insurance company (notice a trend here?) looking for me to switch my current automobile coverage to theirs.  The envelope included a bumper sticker that plainly stated “PLEASE DON’T HIT ME! I am not 100% sure about my coverage”.  To their credit, I was amused by the bumper sticker campaign, but did this company really expect me to put this ugly sticker on my bumper?

Many people in the AV industry think of trade shows when they hear the word “swag”. Most booths offer some form of it: pens, reusable grocery bags, magnets, t-shirts, candy, paperweights, key chains, flashlights, headlamps, miniature screwdrivers, and plenty of those little foam things that you are supposed to squeeze when you are stressed.  I remember one booth had flying monkey toys that you could launch across the room. 99%  of these promotional items have a company logo and/or marketing tagline printed on them.  Some items become “gifts” for the kids once the attendee gets home from the trip.

Aside from the pens and reusable grocery bags, most of the swag you get is garbage.  I keep a few of the foam-stress-relief-thingees around my desk, and squeeze them periodically to exercise my hands and fingers, helping to avoid Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.  I don’t ever remember being stressed out, squeezing one for a minute, and then feeling less stressed.

What blows my mind is how much money is wasted on this bad swag!  Not to mention the hours spent by marketing departments and/or company owners to “design” this crap: the t-shirts in awful colors chosen to match the company’s logo, covered in industry-related marketing taglines, or sometimes even images of the products.  Who on earth would wear these outside of mowing the lawn, changing your oil, or sealing the driveway?  There is one group who is happy to get these shirts: homeless people.  I love it when I see a homeless person wearing a promotional t-shirt, because it means the shirt is being used, not just thrown away.  Probably not what the marketing team had in mind, but hey, at least the catchy tagline created by the marketing guru is actually being read by someone, right?

hobos
Original image courtesy of Rapgenius on Amazon Web Services

As much as I am a sucker for free stuff, I do my best to avoid accepting this bad swag; although sometimes, I can’t say no, because its mailed directly to me (“Enjoy your lapel pin…”.) As a waste-conscious citizen, I seriously don’t know if I should toss it, recycle it, donate it, or spend the money to ship it back to them, with a note saying, “WTF were you thinking?  You just wasted time and money on something no one will ever use!”

Occasionally, someone gets it right.  For example, one manufacturer’s rep I know quietly hands out $10 Starbucks gift cards to people who engage her at the trade show booth.  These gift cards have no tag lines, no logos (other than the Starbucks logo).  I have not seen her in years, only because I have not attended those same trade shows.  And yet I specifically remember her giving me that gift card, as well as the company she represents.

Other companies have sponsored outings like dinner cruises, baseball games, even paintball.  Those were very fun, very memorable times, and I was able to share the experience with coworkers and loved ones.  And just like the Starbucks card, I remember exactly what company sponsored those events, as well as the people representing them.

So please, marketing gurus, take note:  the next time you are about to “pull the trigger” on your latest sky-blue or lime-green t-shirt, the one with your latest tagline on the front and your logo on the sleeve, think to yourself:  Would I actually wear this?  Would anyone I know actually wear this?  What is this costing my company?  And would we be better off just handing out gift cards, or even the cash equivalent?  Now THAT would be memorable!

 

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Would YOU Date A Dead Rock Star?

After hearing that the Grateful Dead reunion shows will be streamed from Chicago, IL and Santa Clara, CA, I have heard a couple people say things like “wouldn’t it be great if so-and-so showed up, wait, is he still alive?” and “I wish I could go back in time and hear Jerry play, just once (more)”. I am sure we have all had a similar daydream at some point; if I could go back in time and see anyone play live, Jimi Hendrix would be my choice.

Now let’s take this thought experiment a step further and ask ourselves the following question: if you were given an opportunity to go back in time and date a rock star, someone who died prematurely because of their personal demons, would you do it?

Close your eyes (not yet! you have to keep reading first) and imagine a time machine with a very limited feature set and GUI (graphical user interface). As you step into the time machine, all you see are a dozen or so buttons on the wall. Beside each button is the name of a dead rock star (don’t focus on the music genre, could be a pop star or country singer, but with “rock star” status.) No other controls are in the time machine, just buttons and names.

Amy Winehouse, 2007.  Photo courtesy of Wikipedia
Amy Winehouse in LA circa 2007; photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Each rock star next to each button has died prematurely due to alcohol, drug abuse, suicide, or maybe a car accident. The buttons might include Amy Winehouse, Curt Cobain, even Michael Jackson, who did not technically kill himself, but definitely had issues, both growing up and as an adult; I think we can all agree on that. The names don’t really matter, because in this thought experiment, you only need to choose one.

Back to the time machine, like I said, it has limited functionality and you can not choose exactly what time you get to travel back to. In fact, let’s call it The Limited Time Machine. When you hit a button next to a rock stars name, you will be transported back in time to a point in that rock star’s life where you can meet them, and get to know them on a personal level. You might even start dating them, and/or develop a long term relationship.

The Limited Time Machine would not guarantee love, but it would put you in a time and place where it could happen. All you can choose is which rock star you might want to date. That might be difficult for some readers, knowing deep down that your time with them is limited, either by the limited time machine taking you back to the future, or by their death. Or maybe another reason, it doesn’t matter; your time with them is limited.

Would you try to save them from their eventual demise? Or would you worry that if you tried to save them, it might negatively affect their music that brings so much happiness to the world? Do you really think you could save them if you tried? Wouldn’t it just be a matter of time until they died, or you were swept away by the Limited Time Machine?

Perhaps it would be better to just sit in the front row and watch, as your lover and confidant performed and delighted the crowds. That is where this blog post began, right? Going back in time as an innocent concert attendee, who did not know the person behind the mask, or what happened in the back of the tour bus. Could you love them just for who the were, and stop there?  Would you be able to handle a relationship with them in the years leading up to their death, or only if you could know them in their earlier years, when things were easier?

So again, I ask you to close your eyes, and imagine you are stepping into this limited time machine.  Would you push the button to date a dead rock star?  Which one, and why?

Please submit your comments below or email me at pkav.info@gmail.com .

Thanks -pk

I Propose An Infocomm Northwest

Leaving Las Vegas: Why InfoComm Should Also Visit Seattle or San Francisco, Where AV Innovation Is More Than Just Stagecraft

By Paul Konikowski, CTS-D

I was honored to be a special guest this past Friday on AVweek, a weekly podcast produced by AVnation.tv that discusses current events of the audiovisual industry.  After the podcast, the other contributors and I started talking about how the annual CEDIA expo may smell a little different this year, as this September, CEDIA expo-goers would now have the liberty of trying some of Denver’s new, umm, legislation…

I started to think about all of the cities where I have attended conferences geared towards audio and video.  I have traveled to Philadelphia, PA for EduCause; Amsterdam,NL for ISE; Anaheim,CA for InfoComm and NAMM; Indianapolis,IN and Denver,CO for CEDIA; New York,NY and San Francisco,CA for AES; and Orlando,FL for Infocomm.  And, of course, Las Vegas,NV for both CES in January (when the weather is kind of nice), and the Infocomm in June (when I sometimes wonder if I died in my sleep, and then woke up within the inner circles of Dante’s Inferno.)

Whenever I get back from these conferences, and I am inevitably reminded of the advances in technology taking place where I live on the Bay Area.  One might even argue that the bulk of American technological innovation comes from Silicon Valley, San Francisco, and Seattle, and that the rest of the country is simply trying to keep up with the West Coast (with extra emphasis on the word argue, as I sure many hipsters in Brooklyn or Austin would be terribly offended by my statement. If you are one of the offended, then I suggest you go buy yourself a RumChata, and you will feel better.)

So why is the Infocomm Show held in Las Vegas, anyway?  I think the main reason is logistics.  Las Vegas is more centrally located than most of the other cities I mentioned.  The Las Vegas Convention Center is certainly large enough for the Infocomm Show, and there are plenty of hotels and restaurants for meetings.  AV manufacturers and integrators based in Southern California can simply drive their gear to Las Vegas.  Others from around the country can easily find flights to Vegas.

There is also the wow-factor and live performance aspect of Las Vegas that can not be matched in other cities.  Between the Cirque du Soleil shows and purpose-built concert halls, there are plenty of places for manufacturers to host after-hours events; not to mention all of the bright lights and video screens: all help to remind AV folks exactly how big of a deal AV can actually be, when there is adequate budget.

Still, I can’t help but wonder, why not host an Infocomm Show in San Francisco, Silicon Valley, or Seattle? Isn’t the Infocomm Show supposed to be a gathering of the vibes for the AV industry? If we are embracing the so-called AV/IT convergence (where audiovisual meets information technology, hangs out, and has a few beers), why isn’t this annual AV trade show hosted someplace where Information Technology people hang out?

Again, I know in the end it’s probably about logistics, and if that is the basis for choosing the location for InfoComm, well then I will never win this argument.  Hotels and flights to the San Francisco Bay or Seattle would certainly be much tougher for AV folks, especially those on the East Coast. But flights to Orlando are not easy for anyone on the West Coast, either. Food and drinks are much more pricey in the Bay Area, and the convention centers are just not as big as Vegas.  But that is exactly why we need to put logistics second, for at least one year, and put technology first.

If Infocomm was only about logistics, and keeping costs down, we might as well host the entire trade show online.  Each booth could have a five or ten minute video showing their new products, with live Q&A available for engineers like me who ask way too many questions. Virtual meetings could take place using Google Hangouts, and participants could simply scan a QRcode or “click here” for more information from a given manufacturer.  The classes and seminars that are normally offerred at Infocomm could be accomplished using on-demand webinars and online testing.  But we all know the Big Show is much more than just business meetings, educational seminars, and seeing new products.

Infocomm is about synergy.  It’s about the random person you meet on the monorail who happens to know so-and-so and suddenly the two of you are discussing a current design challenge or potential project.  The energy and excitement of meeting new people and gaining new skills, while seeing old friends and past co-workers is what makes the Infocomm Show so awesome, and that is precisely why it needs to happen as a live event each year.  Infocomm gets us out of our shells and the shear fact that you are not back in your office or on a job site doing an installation, means you can focus more on learning (I know, I know, easier said, than done).

It’s that same synergy that has convinced me that there needs to be an Infocomm Northwest.  Every time I go to a trade show, I notice that many of the attendees are locals who, if the show was located in another state or country, simply could not attend.  The same is true for employees of the information technology and internet-based companies in Silicon Valley: many of them do not have the time to travel to Las Vegas (despite their unlimited vacation), BUT if that same Infocomm show was located in the Bay Area, they might be able to attend for a day or two, without impacting their work load, or their Burning Man camp planning.  As Kevin Costner learned in Field of Dreams, “if you build it, they will come”.

Let’s take a company like DropBox, for instance.  Many AV installation firms use Dropbox as a way to share files, yet DropBox probably has no idea that Infocomm even exists!  This example can be expanded to almost all IT, software, and internet based technology that is born in the Bay Area or Seattle.  They don’t know there are audiovisual consultants, because we are nothing in comparison to the larger information technology business model they are used to dealing with. We need to change that, and get on their radar, before the entire AV industry goe the way of the wireless microphones based in the VHF and UHF channels, now banned from use due to changes in the IT sectors.

So I say, “Hey Infocomm, let’s leave Las Vegas, maybe not for good, but for at least one year.”  Let’s host an Infocomm Northwest here in the Bay Area or in Seattle, where technology is being born, not chased.  Wouldn’t you rather travel to Northern California or Seattle in June?  Let me know your thoughts in the comment section below, via Twitter @pkaudiovisual or send me an email to pkav.info at gmail.com.

Yes, I use gmail; don’t you?