Adobe’s New Vision: Away with The Box and Into the Cloud

[Cross-Posted from Beneath the Brand.]

As a sometime graphic designer, I’ve been a loyal user of Adobe products for many years. I’ve followed the company through their branding and packaging changes, from their unveiling of the Creative Suite in 2003 to the acquisition of Macromedia Flash in 2005, to the launching of the Creative Cloud subscription model last year. Now, it seems Adobe has decided to change yet again: they are tossing out the traditional retail box, and are switching to exclusively selling Creative Cloud subscriptions.

The decision to change to a completely subscription-based pricing model is a bold one, to be sure. Many customers enjoyed the Creative Suite and won’t be happy with completely digital software and subscription-based pricing. Adobe has let these customers know that Creative Suite 6 is still available for purchase, albeit without future updates, but they also emphasize that there will never be a Creative Suite 7. Adobe maintains that they have listened to their customers over the years, and that this change is the result of careful consideration of their customers’ demands.

There are a number of changes coming with the Creative Cloud. For starters, Adobe is eliminating material packaging altogether. This not only saves on production and shipping costs, but it also aligns the brand with “greener” technology. Additionally, it makes it more accessible — once you have a subscription, you can then download the programs onto any supported devices, which is an absolute necessity given the prominence of tablets, smartphones, and other mobile devices in today’s world.

Further, Adobe is rebranding the former Creative Suite applications (or “CS”) as “CC” products. This includes Photoshop CC, Illustrator CC, Dreamweaver CC, Premiere Pro CC, and InDesign CC. The programs are intended to be upgradable utilizing cloud technology: Once a customer has a subscription, they have access to updates as often as they are released, as long as the customer’s subscription is still active. This means that problems such as bugs or OS compatibility issues can be addressed as they come up, and updates will be released much more frequently. And of course, because this is all done through Creative Cloud, you won’t have to pay extra for hotfixes or upgrades.

The pricing models vary depending on your history with the company. For subscribers like myself, if you’ve purchased a CS 3 or later product, you can get the first year at $29.99 per month. Others who own earlier versions of the product can snag the complete version for $49.99 a month. Or you have the option to purchase a single-product license for $19.99 per month. For teams and companies who require special packages, Adobe has other options.

But what does all this mean for the brand? Well, for Adobe, this means regular revenue. Rather than the sporadic income they would receive with CS releases every year or two years, they now receive a monthly influx of revenue. This means they can spend more time addressing existing issues, developing better add-ons for the applications, and fighting the ongoing battle of software piracy.

And for Adobe users, this means they can have access to expensive software at a reasonable monthly rate. They’ll get better customer service and a better product in the long run due to regular maintenance. Another bonus? The more Adobe products you use, the better the deal becomes.

Obviously, I am a fan of this model. It’s green, it’s sleek and convenient, and for me, it’s a great investment. What do you think of Adobe’s changes?

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Announcing A New Late-Night Contender…Cap’n Crunch!

[Cross-Posted from Beneath the Brand].

Do you have a favorite cereal mascot from your childhood years? Growing up in the ’90s, I recall there being so many cereal mascots, so many jingles, and so many ways to tell adults that our cereal just wasn’t for them that it was nearly impossible to choose a favorite to represent our generation. We had Apple Jacks, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Trix, and of course, Cap’n Crunch. While of course there are many others to bring up for nostalgia’s sake, there’s only one that I want to talk about right now, and that one is Cap’n Crunch.

I believe the last time I even thought about the Cap’n was when I swore he’d never lacerate the roof of my mouth with his dastardly crunch berries again (which, admittedly, was probably not all that long ago). But on April 23, the Cap’n himself took to Twitter and Facebook and made an announcement about some surprising new plans of his: He’s getting his own late-night talk show. Out with the old, and in with the new.

Of course you won’t see the Cap’n makin’ it happen in a lineup with the likes of Leno, Letterman, or Fallon. Instead, he’ll be showcasing his talents in an original YouTube series, The Cap’n Crunch Show.

The Cap’n Crunch Show is set to debut Tuesday, May 7 at 11:35 pm EDT, just like any other late-night programs. There will be a total of nine episodes, with a new one being made available every other Tuesday following the premiere. The content is directed at adults who have grown up with the cherished character, and is intended to be primarily tongue-in-cheek: the host will apparently discuss pop culture, social media, and interview animated celebrities from his giant cereal bowl with a little help from his pooch and first mate, Sea Dog.

In an effort to promote the mascot’s brand new image, Quaker has encouraged fans to interact with their host via social media. You can subscribe to his YouTube channelfollow him on Twitter, or like him on Facebook. Like many other brands, social media proves to be bolstering his campaign: He currently has about 270,000 likes on Facebook, and 14,200 followers on Twitter.

The brand’s new marketing strategy plays on adults’ nostalgia, creating a new bond between the character and the customer, and it springboards from popular social media platforms. It’s certainly an approach that has worked for other franchises that were popular in the past: think Transformers, My Little Pony, or even the new Kool-Aid manmakeover. Given that the ’90s revival theme is pretty popular right now, do you think the Cap’n will fit right in?

Netflix and Hasbro’s New Deal: A Solution to Kid-Targeted Advertising?

Cross-posted from [Beneath the Brand].

In 1984, the Federal Communications Commission made the decision to remove the limitations that had long been in place for children’s advertising — what kinds of commercials could be viewed during children’s programming, for example, or how many minutes per hour could be dedicated to advertising aimed at young kids — stating that the marketplace would determine what programming was best for children. Fast-forward nearly 30 years and there is still a dialogue going on about what actually is best for children.

Children’s advertising has been blamed in the UK last week for everything from rising rates of childhood obesity to excessive drug usage and teen pregnancy. In America, we’ve seen a similar correlation drawn between media consumption (particularly “superfluous” content such as advertisements) and childhood obesity.

Needless to say, people are nervous about — and perhaps even fed up with — the effects of aggressive advertising on younger children.

So what’s a brand to do without targeted advertising? Netflix thinks they might have the answer in a tactic that’s a little more… subversive.

Everyone knows why Netflix can, at times, be preferable to cable television — there are no advertisements; much of its content is on-demand, streaming media; and full seasons of shows are ready to be watched all on one lazy weekend afternoon, whenever and wherever you like. And they already had a large selection of kid’s media to choose from: in 2012 alone, over 12 billion hours of children’s content was streamed through the popular media hub.

As of April 11, Netflix announced that they were teaming up with Hasbro to offer even more streaming kids’ content, adding shows such as “Littlest Pet Shop” and “Kaijudo: Rise of the Duel Masters.” They wanted to create an atmosphere where kids could stream content “unencumbered by aggressive advertisements or inappropriate material.”

But is it really uninhibited and “free” from advertising? With virtually unlimited hours of television right at their fingertips, children are easily able to cherry-pick what they deem most interesting to watch. Long gone are the days of waking up early on Saturday morning to catch a few hours of carefully packaged cartoons with the intermittent advertisement for Rock-Em-Sock-Em-Robots or a Skip It. Now, you can have whatever content you want, whenever you want it — as long as mom and dad still have a subscription to Netflix. And the shows certainly put activities and material items in them that kids will want to emulate or obtain for themselves.

So really, aren’t the brands themselves doing all the advertising? Hasbro is the classic staple for children’s entertainment, Netflix has become a monolith in on-demand entertainment, and your child can select their favorite shows with just the click of a button, learning of their desires through their favorite shows.

What do you think? Does this count as unwelcome advertising, or is Netflix on the right track?

Why Kay Jewelers Warms Our Hearts Every Christmas Season

[Cross-posted from Beyond Madison Ave.]

Every Christmas season, Kay Jewelers releases a commercial that is supposed to represent a moment of pure, unaltered bliss for women: After a year of hard work and playing the diligent wife, the go-getter at work, the dinner maker, the errand runner, and the all-around problem solver, she is rewarded with a beautiful piece of jewelry — what a prize! The woman smiles, thanks her loving family, and everyone is happy. Most importantly, she knows she is loved. In the next clip, she is wearing the jewelry, gives her husband or boyfriend a kiss, and the musical jingle plays as their lips touch: Every kiss begins with Kay.

Kay Jewelers has been making commercials for Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, and Christmas for years — and every one follows a variation of this formula. Each commercial ends with the beaming, grateful woman wearing the jewelry, and leaning in for the big kiss with her husband or boyfriend while the jingle begins to play. This is one of the most important parts of their brand’s image. The tune is simple, memorable, and short. While very few commercials use musical jingles anymore, Kay’s still works — which is precisely why they haven’t changed it for so many years. It has become such an integral part of the brand that people recognize the company from the moment they hear the first few notes.

Aside from the effective jingle, Kay Jewelers uses another method of appealing to their customers. By showing a husband or boyfriend engaging in a simple, loving gesture like giving his partner a heartfelt gift on Christmas, a tradition is born. Kay Jewelers takes care to show that beautiful gifts like gem-encrusted necklaces, diamond rings, and gold bracelets are affordable, even for families. It also shows that a woman will appreciate something selected from Kay. So of course, with everyone so pleased, it makes sense that it could also be a wonderful tradition for years to come.

Kay Jewelers also uses mini-stories to evoke our tender emotions. They carefully align the customers that use their products as protagonists. When a boyfriend or husband presents his personal gift from Kay, he believes he has given a priceless, timeless gift to the woman. And when she inevitably accepts it, she accepts not only the gorgeous jewelry, but also the gesture that comes with it. She accepts his love, and both parties feel good about the transaction. This makes us, as consumers, want to recreate that feeling for ourselves.

So by combining mini-narratives, holiday traditions, good feelings, and jingles, Kay Jewelers has created an unmistakable image for themselves that has transcended other competitors’ marketing techniques. Everyone knows what a Kay commercial is like, and hundreds of thousands of women receive gifts from their stores every Christmas. All of the time-tested advertising techniques I touched upon have made Kay the number one retailer of jewelry worldwide. The simplicity of their brand resonates with millions of normal folks who are looking to give or receive something special. Of course, there’s a whole other camp of people who avoid Kay Jewelers precisely because of these advertising elements, too — but that certainly won’t stop Kay Jewelers from releasing another commercial, or from changing their formula. Just wait until Valentine’s Day.

5 Personal Branding Cues to Consider for Your Business in 2013

Cross-posted from [Beneath the Brand].

Let’s take a brief look at a successful personal brand that started off as something virtually unknown. Take Ray William Johnson, for example. He started out making videos for fun, but gradually amassed followers to become one of the most popular channels on YouTube. Now he is taking his brand to a whole new level — he announced recently that he’s starting his own production company! While there is no set formula for success like Ray William Johnson’s, there are a few tips and tricks we can follow to improve our representation of our brand and our visibility online.

1) Hone in on your skills. When you are trying to reach a wider audience, it’s important to recognize your strengths. For example, are you a talented speaker? Why not volunteer to be a guest speaker for your local community college? If you’re more of a writer, submit something to your local paper and send out samples of your work to your favorite blogs. Maybe you can guest post, edit, or even be a regular contributor! Are you good at teaching? Find out if you can instruct for a local adult education program — get to know people and network!

2) Use proper etiquette in everything you do. When you answer the phone or send an email, you’re still branding yourself. Do it positively. If you relay messages in an abrupt, rude manner, people will not perceive you as an open communicator or an approachable business contact. Do your very best to be courteous and considerate to others, and they’ll remember you and the brand you represent as a positive, rewarding experience!

3) Utilize word-of-mouth marketing. Tried and true, friends. Talk to your colleagues, coworkers, clients, customers. Nurture your crowd. When they ask questions or provide feedback — positive or negative — engage them. If someone is trying to cause problems or attack another one of your customers (happens a lot on Internet forums), moderate it. Make your space a positive one, and reserve room for constructive criticism. When you handle yourself in a professional and structured manner, people respect you as a manager and as a person. They want to participate in your brand, and they’ll spread the word for you!

4) Use social media. Be online. In 2013 there will be no excuse to not have a way for your customers to connect with you via social media. Promote yourself by using sites like LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and YouTube. You don’t need to do all of the above, obviously, but choose a few of them and use them. Update them regularly, and connect with people who are similar to you. Consistency creates loyalty. I’ve heard people say that brand loyalty is no longer a thing, but I maintain that it still is. It’s just that the definition has changed a bit — it’s no longer blind loyalty to one of two major competing companies like so many businesses in the ’80s and ’90s. (For example: Coke vs Pepsi, Nintendo vs Sega, Ford vs Chevrolet, the list goes on and on.) Nowadays, loyalty isn’t defined as exclusivity to your business — but rather, by your company providing loyal services to your customers and employees, and of course to yourself. When you create a positive work atmosphere, your employees want to work for you, and do a better job at engaging your customers. The customers recognize and appreciate this. And by using social media, everyone can share their positive experiences in real time, which gives you more free, positive publicity!

5) Keep a line-up of projects. This is important. Have deadlines. Focus on bite-sized achievements. This gives you a variety of things to pull from for discussions, and you will always have something new to tweet, write, and learn about. You can easily connect with others on multiple levels when you have a constant workflow. Of course, there are a few don’ts as well: don’t overwhelm yourself, and don’t post about mundane things (save your Instagrammed lunch photos for your personal accounts)! But by breaking your habit of only posting when you have a major deadline due, you keep fans consistently in the loop. They’ll like keeping tabs on your progress!

These are only a few tips, but they are important things to consider for your personal brand and business going into 2013. It’s no longer enough to just put up a website and hope that the customers will find you. Be proactive, and find new ways to engage your audience on a regular basis. The hard work will pay off! Happy branding!

‘Happily Ever After’?: Modernizing Fairy Tales for a New Generation

[Cross-posted from Beneath the Brand blog].

Recently, my boyfriend and I started watching Once Upon a Time. Other than the brief plot synopsis I’d read online, neither of us knew much about it. But we are both products of the ‘80s and ‘90s, so we were familiarized with storylines within the series, because hey — we’d seen Disney movies. This sort of sugar-coated narrative was how most kids of that generation generally became acquainted with the fairy tales, and in terms of popular media consumption, Disney had a monopoly on the production of fairy tales for many years.

So, with that in mind, we sat down to a surprisingly nuanced and dark story. In this tale, almost the entire cast of characters doesn’t realize that they hail from a fantasy realm, because a dark queen has cast a curse on them, banishing them to live in a prison (which is the small town of Storybrooke, Maine), all the while oblivious to their former lives.

One little boy is convinced that he knows their true identities, and embarks on a quest to get his birth mother to help him break the spell. The only catch? His adoptive mother is the evil queen (or, in her present incarnation, the mayor of Storybrooke), and she doesn’t take too kindly to anyone foiling her plans.

And I’m hooked — it’s modern, weaves together familiar tales in such a way to be comforting, and then retells them in a contemporary, action-packed manner that you won’t soon forget.

So watching Once Upon a Time brought up some memories for me, and it made me think about the history of fairy tales — and the joy we get from retelling them time and again, each generation putting its own twist on them.

Considered by many to be the godfathers of modern fairy tale lore, the Grimm brothers collected a wealth of German folklore and published the stories in an anthology. Many of the stories were exceedingly dark and violent, but kids read them anyway. The books retained their popularity surprisingly well, and in the 20th century, a large portion of the tales was thought to be too dark and violent for children. So, when Disney pulled inspiration and storylines from the Grimm’s tales, they deliberately chose to overlook the allusions to sexuality, as well as the descriptions overt violence and cruelty that were present in so many of the fables. This left us with the sanitized, moralistic good-triumphs-over-evil stories that we know so well today.

But the kids who once dreamt of the Disney versions of fairy tales have grown up now. Today, they are the story weavers, working on blockbuster movies and writing the hit television shows like Once Upon a Time. And so we are seeing the retelling of old German folktales in shows like Grimm, a story that features the Grimm brothers as cops, fighting modern, real-life versions of familiar fairytale creatures. Jack and the Beanstalk turned into Jack the Giant Killer, an updated story of the bravery and heroism of an unlikely “giant killer.” Snow White’s soft-spoken, naïve demeanor has vanished in favor of the valiant warrior we see Snow White and the Huntsman, Hansel and Gretel are now cunning Witch Hunters rather than helpless, abandoned children, and even the Rise of the Guardians chronicles popular contemporary fairy tale characters like Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, who just so happen to possess some previously-unknown superhero powers — though it’s still child-friendly, of course.

So what is it that drives us to modernize these tales? Many times, we choose to reimagine characters like meek, fragile Snow White or little, gullible Jack from Jack and the Beanstalk as characters who are now powerfully in control of their destinies — presently, they are unlikely heroes at worst and completely bad-ass action heroes at best. In some of the new stories the women, who were formerly relegated to droll, feminine passivity, have advanced to meet their male counterparts as equals in battle: Snow White adorns herself in a warrior’s armor and fights alongside her male friends, and eventually squares off woman-to-woman to win back a kingdom. In Once Upon a Time, the female characters actually drive the story with their own set of decidedly un-princess-like desires.

Yes, it seems that modernizing these fairy-tale brands is a full-blown trend that has everyone’s attention. Today, people who grew up with the same old narrative of prince-meets-princess-and-they-live-happily-ever-after are creating worlds where our childhood heroes can be as powerful, flawed, and as nuanced as we always wanted them to be. And the whole point of fairy tales is to pass on these timeless stories to the next generation, even if it’s in an updated format, isn’t it?

So which tales would you like to see redone? I’ve personally always liked Little Red Riding Hood and Bluebeard — strangely enough though, both of those tales are from the French author Charles Perrault rather than the Brothers Grimm!

The Rebranding of the Romance Novel

[Reposted from my article at Beneath the Brand.]

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard of the success of E.L. James’ erotic 50 Shades trilogy. For a quick recap, the story encompasses a young billionaire professor and philanthropist’s relationship with a naïve, virginal recent college grad. It started out as Twilight fanfiction, but grew into something much more provocative — and now people are trying to wrap their heads around why. Was it the explicit writing? Was it because it branded itself as a “different,” more modern and kinky tale of romance? Maybe it was something else altogether.

Well, part of the success of the series is that the media keeps talking about it. The series’ popularity has been attributed to a number of factors: from the economic recession influencing housewives to escape from reality; to the popularity of e-readers such as Kindles or Nooks providing a private, anonymous way to read kink material; to even good, old-fashioned curiosity in the allure of BDSM and the taboo culture surrounding it.

But another reason it’s prevalent is because romance novels needed an update. And with the 50 Shades series, we saw a fresh new take on the genre emerging: it’s dark, kinky, and alternative, especially when compared to the bodice-rippers of the Harlequin genre. This simply isn’t your old-fashioned romance novel. So why is it drawing so much attention?

Strangely, although the content is more explicit than most romance novels, the cover art is actually more subdued. Where one would normally find two passionate, fit, attractive figures entwined in each other’s arms, clothes falling to the ground in the heat of the moment, they now find simply a mysterious face mask. Or a tie. Handcuffs. Something that is perhaps symbolic of the nuanced themes of dominance vs. submission that you will find within the pages of the book, but definitely not an overt symbol of lurid sex. But is cover art really a reason that women are interested in the trilogy?

“I knew it was going to be kinky when I saw a tie, hand cuffs and a mask on the covers. I think it makes your mind go to a different place seeing an item rather than a provocative cover, because then you know that item is telling a story all on its own,” says one fan who states that she has completely fallen in love with the series. “It’s like a can of Pringles — once you read one page, you can’t stop until you’re completely done with all three books. I know many people who read the whole series in under a week.” Another fan agrees: “I definitely prefer it to the more Fabio-ish covers.”

Yet, the covers didn’t seem to affect everyone in the same manner. “I wouldn’t want to read other books with this theme; for me, it was curiosity that arose with the popularity of this book series,” says one woman who became interested because of the talk surrounding the steamy trilogy. “The cover art didn’t influence me at all.”

Still another reader says that she was curious about the sex, but mostly, she wanted to read 50 Shades for what it was — a romance novel. “Overall, when I think back to those books and what I enjoyed, I liked the teasing, the flirting, banter, the love story. And that’s what hooked me…the falling in love.”

So it would seem that for some, this rebranding of romance has been extremely influential in their choice of reading material. Perhaps for people who are looking for something a little darker and more taboo, the change works very well: for those readers who have an active imagination, all they need to see is a symbol, like a tie or handcuffs, and their minds will fill in the blanks. This makes the story much more real and nuanced for them. For others, the social hype surrounding the book is enough to entice them, and they are pleasantly surprised to find that the trilogy is a good read.

What do you think?