Category Archives: Other Work

Car Shenanigans

My ute is getting repaired after being hit in the rear quarter panel. I have been car-less for half a week, but today I am off to pick up a Ford Fiesta Econetic from Ford. It is one of their media cars. I am grateful that I’ll have some wheels again!

It should be interesting driving the Econetic as it is literally one of the next generation of vehicles. By that I mean there is a forthcoming tipping point where most cars on the road will be turbo diesel (like the Econetic or Mini D), hybrid (Prius or various Lexus models) or extremely small kei-class type vehicles (like the Alto). It will be my first experience properly driving one of the next generation of vehicles. The last time this happened involved a long process in the mid to late-1980s and it involved the shift from leaded petrol to ULP, archaic pushrod engine design to overhead cam, a shift in aesthetics from a large, squared off body shape to something more aerodynamic. When you go shopping for a vehicle now you are choosing between two iterations of the automotive market before choosing between vehicles within the respective markets.

This can be represented in the vehicles I have owned. Here is a late night photo of me working on my 1981 Ford XD Falcon:

It has a 5.8 litre V8 engine, four speed Toploader gearbox and 9in differential. I’ve owned it for 12 years.

Next is my 1994 Ford ED XR6 that I just sold:

It has a 4 litre OHC straight six cylinder engine and drove far nicer than my XD.

Next is my 2006 Ford BF XR6 ute that I bought last year:

Drives very nice, interior is ultra modern and it has a twin overhead cam straight six cylinder engine.

The XD made about 220kW at the wheels. The ED made about 116kW at the wheels. The BF would make about 140kW at the wheels, although it has never been run on a dyno so I don’t know. At the engine flywheel the Econetic makes 66kW. Not much, but not bad from what Ford call their ‘Duratorq’ turbo diesel 1.6 litre four cylinder engine. The kicker isn’t the power out of the Econetic, but the torque. It makes 200Nm from 1750 revs. That is some crazy shit. It is hard to explain to non-car people exactly how this much torque this far down in the rev range changes the driving experience. It will feel zippy down low and it will keep on pulling. I’ve noticed that Ford has selected far taller gearing for the diesel because it has heaps more torque than the other Fiesta models.

Anyway, there is the low-down torque I can’t wait to experience and the six-speaker stereo that allows me to plug in an iPod. Excellent :).

Social Media and the Yaris Campaign

Tim Burrows has written up an account of the Toyota Yaris ad affair. The ad itself. Tim’s account follows the timeline of what happened and outlines it with a kind of decision-tree logic that makes it exciting and dramatic as we get to find out how this epic fail was distributed across a number of decisions. This is a far more productive way to account for failure than a juridical mode, which simply seeks to attribute blame (or minimize it) because these complex interactions across a number of actors in the affair (various ad people, agency people, Toyota people, etc) all contributed to the end result.

I posted a comment in response to another commenter, Schaden Freude, who ironically expressed caution about being too critical of the advertising campaign behind the Yaris affair. It annoyed me because it expressed a naïve position that social media was something that everyone has ‘experienced’ but was still trying to figure out. This is nonsense. My original comment:

Nonsense. Using social media is not some big experiment where the outcome is an enigmatic divination of public will and/or stupidity. ‘Experience’ in/with social media is not what is required. What is required is a critical understanding of the specific function of deploying the various ’social media’ tools as part of a well thought-out PR strategy and highly tactical management of these tools as a campaign unfolds.

Brands go viral in a media ecology, ’social media’ is a collective term to describe very different tools to manage the circulation of this brand in the ecology. Without the very active, hands-on tactical management of the virus-brand you simply have a bunch of people ticking boxes for a PR campaign recipe about what social media options they think are a good idea.

Think tending to a brand garden and not baking a brand cake.

Another commenter, sven, asked me to explain what I am talking about, which is fair enough with my mixing of metaphors and hastily-assembled text. (I am busy at work, now doing freelance!!) I don’t really care about the ad. My point is not about the lack of taste or the efficacy of shock-values in viral marketing. My point is about the lazy use of social media. Social media is not an ends, it is a means. (EDIT: Or here for a timely post by Neil Perkin.) What do you with social media? You can:

1) Host the conversation. Discussion about something between interested parties.
2) Extend the event. Off-line reality can be extended online, like friendship networks mapped on facebook, but more specific, so this night out discussed with the actual people that were there (or who would’ve liked to have been there). It gives the discussion an affective glue through an assumed shared sense of purpose.
3) Cultivate enthusiasm. Cultivate, yeah? Like a garden… Social networks online and off-line organise around people’s interests. When you use social media you want to tap into social networks. So you need to understand these interests or the stronger version of interest, enthusiasm. Enthusiasm is a force, it is a resource, and what I wrote my PhD about.

There is little point using it for anything else when current techniques will suffice. Social media is used because the ‘media’ bit serves as part of the infrastructure of the ‘social’ bit.

So if the enthusiasm of people is a resource and harnessing it is contingent on extending their social events by providing the infrastructure for ‘discussion’ (in the broadest sense, sharing stuff, etc), then Toyota’s campaigner strategy should have been to:
1) Target the specific enthusiasms pertaining to the demographics of the market segment they were trying to capture.
2) Then target the specific social media platforms and niche groups of this enthusiasm/interest. Simply setting up a group on Facebook group is like walking into a newsagent and blindly choosing a magazine within which to run advertising. There is myriad number of possible ways to connect with the market segment.
3) Help encourage the rituals of sharing belonging to the cultural formations organised around these enthusiasms and other kinds of activity (producing, distributing, circulation of knowledge, etc.).

Why didn’t they target a niche social group where there is a crossover between rudimentary video production skills and a partial interest in the car? And if they don’t have the production skills? Why not set-up your own website with short video tutorials on how to make videos? Provide a resource that will catch people’s interest in the social media infrastructure of your own making. You could run two competitions. With the other being awarded to the best video about making videos. How many people would want to watch those? Have a forum where people can swap tips about video production, etc. Provide the resources to sow the interest and then cultivate the enthusiasm. Didn’t they already do this with a music DJ/mixing site where you could make your own tunes?

The Yaris campaign management did the complete opposite of this process of cultivation. Instead they ‘did’ social media by assembling all the ingredients assumed to be correct, i.e. Facebook and Twitter, without actually understanding the ‘social’ bit of ‘social media’. The use of ‘social media’ was completely ineffective.

fraughtness

It is past one in the morning and for the last few hours I have been madly trying to put the finishing touches on a job application for an academic position. Over the past several weeks I have been feeling pressure from a number of people I know to get a job in academia. From aquaintences and colleagues at the State of Industry conference to the most intimate of relationships that are very dear to me. I have felt savaged by their explicit bewilderment and brash questions about why I am not working in academia, their well-intentioned assertions that I should be an academic, and the implication that I am basically wasting my time in my current job.

All of this is probably true. Yet I realised tonight as I have been writing my responses to the Key Selection Criteria that I am basically not yet ready. My biggest problem is that I have not demonstrated my expertise. To do this I need to publish. My greatest error has been to treat academia as an intellectual pursuit. It is not. I have over-invested in my capacity to intellectualise anything, to critically engage with it, to use highly esoteric, but powerful social and philosophical theories and to develop my own conceptual tools to genuinely understand social and cultural phenomena. None of this really matters when it comes time to get a job. I need to play the game. This shall involve me going to war, to mobilise and redirect my energies in a slightly different way.

I need to publish from my PhD, rather than simply having a list of interesting but non-expertise-based scholarly and quasi-scholarly (ie blog) publications. Most of my journal articles published have little or nothing to do with the core focus of my Phd. I am beginning to understand that the ruthlessness I have been cultivating in my current capitalist workplace needs to be redirected towards myself and my intellectual pursuits. I can feel an encroaching sadness born of the fact I need to relinquish my naive appreciation of scholarly work and recognise that it must be framed in terms of the current discourse of outcomes. I need to be ruthless with my own thinking, harness it, exploit it and produce outcomes.

What are my outcomes? I need to demonstrate them. I need to go to war against myself.

Maybe I am becoming an adult.

Notes to an Article

I have had an article in the works for a while now where I have tried to address how to write articles for enthusiast magazines with the example of enthusiast magazines that service modified-car culture. The problem I was having was with how to position it. I have some great material derived from my PhD and the many dozen articles I have written (I have written 55 freelance articles this year, about 30 in the years previous, and easily over 100 as a staff writer). Now I have figured out that the best way for me to pitch this in the opening paragraph is to compare it to the introductory scholarship on writing for the news media.

These are the core analytical points I wanted to convey in this opening first section:

1. Writing for enthusiast media is not the same as writing for news media.
2. The enthusiast media is designed to tap into an enthusiasm and use it as a resource; it is primarily an affective discourse. News media is primarily meant to be free of affect and tends towards an ideal of ‘objectivity’.
3. If the point of news media journalism is to convey the Who, What, Why, Where, When and How (5 Ws and 1 H method) in the lead sentence, then enthusiast media attempts to hook the reader by inciting a particular affective response.
4. The news media attempts to represent the world so the reader can implicate it in their own respective lives; there is some truth to the ‘hyperdermic model’ of media transmission. However, the enthusiast media attempts to implicate the reader in the event of enthusiasm being reported on.

The second section then goes on to demonstrate what is required to be able to write in the affective mode.

1. An understanding and appreciation of the enthusiasm is required.
2. To understand enthusiasm means understanding the challenges faced by an enthusiast. Here I am unsure if I should offer a brief account of the post-Kantian conception of enthusiasm developed in my phd? It is by engaging with challenges that enthusiast bodies are mobilised. Within modified-car culture, a co-enthusiast will ‘read’ a given car in terms of the challenges it inculcates. This demonstrates the capacity and skill of the car’s owner to ‘rise to the challenge’.
3. Understanding the enthusiasm does not simply mean knowing about the objects of enthusiasm or even only the practices of enthusiasm. Within modified-car culture a car is not merely an object to be incorporated into the ego to facilitate gendered production of identity (hegemonic masculinity model), it is a topology of challenges that enthusiasts ‘read’ and confer respect accordingly. The aquisition of know-how is a product of practices that engage with challenges. There is a correlation between know-how and respect within the scene.
4. The job of the enthusiast media journalist is to represent how the enthusiast engaged with a given challenge. The affects of enthusiasm are expressed through this process of rising to the challenge, such as frustration, confusion, trickiness (like ‘smartness’), satisfaction, patience and determination.

The third section discusses the relation between an enthusiast magazine and the given enthusiast scene.
1. A given magazine covers a certain niche market which more often than not encapsulates a subculture within a scene.
2. The magazine is in a relation with enthusiasts and commercial interests. Within modified-car culture the commercial interests are mostly workshops and performance parts suppliers, but also includes event promoters.
3. Coverage of the scene is a media event that seeks to translate the affects of a given event through enthusiast discourse in such a way as to implicate the reader in the broader affective mobilisations of the scene.
4. The content of the scene selected for coverage in a magazine is explicitly valorised, through publication, as being worthy of appearing in the magazine.
5. The political economy dimension to enthusiast magazine coverage of the scene is that coverage is shaped by commercial imperatives of ‘keeping the advertisers happy’.
6. Unlike normal media this is not that much a problem in that those elements selected from commercial interests are also worthy of being valorised. The function of the enthusiast media is not to change the enthusiast-determined heirarchies of value within the scene, but to segment and select portions of it according to the commercial imperatives.

The conclusion points out that niche-market media that services a given enthusiasm is the way of the future for media companies that are coming to terms with shifting from being print publishers to being online publishers. In Australia, just as many other national contexts with a developed media ecology, there are many different enthusiast media publications that target and service many different enthusiasms.