Tag Archives: surfaces

Brandings are forever

I don’t watch TV, don’t listen to the radio, hardly ever go to the cinema, read less and less print media, and surf with an ad blocker. Practically the only advertising that gets through to me are billboards, posters, in-store displays and the increasingly more frequent flat-screen panels around. My contact with these is mostly minimal, and I try to reduce it as much as possible. Contacts beyond that with advertising are beginning to be slightly alienating. The only ad slogans I know anymore come from the billboards – and these, thankfully, tend to be for products and services that I don’t want or need. I sometimes come across new products in the supermarket that by the looks of them must have had launches with major advertising campaigns.

That is how I judge these new products: by the looks of them. There’s power in the branding here, in the design and packaging. It’s apparent what is well-thought out and what’s hastily or cheaply put together. I’m still victim to that in that I’m definitely willing to pay more for something that looks nicer, even though I’m often aware that there is no real difference in quality. For bigger purchases, or ones that mean an investment of time, like movies or books, ratings on the internet are a main factor in my decision-making, as is advice from my friends. There branding has often been relegated to an afterthought.

Overall this means I have a much nicer shopping experience nowadays. I’m less driven to things that wanting to buy has been hammered into me, and more by my needs. It would be even nicer if the old brands disappeared. There are decades of marketing still at work inside of me regarding these. I may not have seen an ad for them for years, but the old ones still resonate somewhere inside of me. Take ‘Maoam’, a German brand of chewy, chemical-ersatz-fruit-flavoured sweets. The current packaging is terrible, but every time I see them I remember a commercial that’s so old that the original isn’t even on YouTube – and sometimes this, mixed with childhood memories, still leads to a purchase of a product I don’t really like much.

This power is unlikely to ever disappear. Branding is something that gets into us very deeply. I have to live with the brands that decades of media consumption carved into me. All I can do is try not to let their number increase much more.

PS: Nothing in my media abstinence has been an ideological decision. I just find that in almost all cases there are much better ways to get at the content I want, and I have no time to waste on content I don’t want.

PPS: For those willing to risk brand-exposure: I found a remake of the classic Maoam commercial . I guess the damage from watching it once won’t be too severe – so it’s OK to go ahead and view it!

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Filed under signal to noise

Digital Patina

With a digital music file you lose the extra experience that used to come with purchased music: the cover, lyrics, liner notes and photos. The pitifully small, single image of  embedded cover art is in no way a replacement for this. I’m actually amazed that the only real efforts at replicating the experience so far have been proprietary formats such as Apple’s ‘iAlbum’ (or whatever they call it – I refuse to use iTunes unless at the gunpoint of absolute necessity). Some standard JPEGs of the album art as part of the downloaded folder would be a start, and should be the standard.

But even that could not replicate the immediacy that having to actually take the vinyl or polycarbonate disc carrying the music data out of the cover and insert it into a playback device every time you want to listen to a record has. And there’s certainly no way to replicate the patina that these physical data carriers and their enclosures accrue over time. I own a second-hand copy of Neil Young’s “Harvest”, slightly yellowed with age, well-taken care of, not a scratch on the disc, but played so often by the first owner that the grooves are worn out and the sound has changed quite noticeably. It is a testament to the importance the album had for that person, and so to me gives it meaning beyond that which the industrially manufactured product initially had. CDs already don’t do anything comparable – but I at least have a couple with interesting stickers that attest to their provenance. Digital goods don’t age or otherwise change at all. The files on my hard drive are the same as those on all the other hard drives out there. A hard drive crash just means restoring from backup, or copying from somewhere else, without any loss or gain in what I have.

Maybe this contributes to why digital releases of forgotten tapes, lost treasures and obscure home recordings from past decades fascinate me so much when I come across them. They have the same non-surface as all the other music files on my hard drive, but the recordings themselves have a history. Their being lost and found imbues them with a personality that the common digital file lacks. The mere fact that I’m able to listen to the music, which is a given with ordinary recordings, is special already. While there is no less scarcity here than with any digital good, the backstory makes them appear scarce. That is the only patina that digital goods can have – more information, which changes how the user experiences them.

 

PS:

I almost wanted to write above that digital goods don’t age, but just become obsolete. Now almost nobody I know owns a functioning record player anymore, CD players are starting to become rare, and CD-ROM drives are also about to go the way of the dodo. I guess I’ll take the problem of finding an MP3, ogg, WAV or AAC codec in a decade or two to play back my current music collection over the challenge of finding a hardware player to read a physical format any day. After all, there are even players for something as obscure as C64 .SID music files, and there are orders of magnitudes more users for the current music files formats.

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Filed under digital media