Allison Sparrow

Tech Marketing

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Using data-driven marketing tactics for the arts (and why it’s a load of shite).

In November 2014, I went to see Capital Cities perform at the Fox. It was horrible.

My friend had an extra ticket, and he told me I was one of the only people who would go to a show on a whim (I still am, please continue to offer me tickets to concerts, I won’t always rant about them on the internet).

Capital Cities are a new electro pop group, famous for their song Safe And Sound. I had heard amazing things about their performance at OL 2014, and I was stoked to check out some dance-y tunes.

We walked in, and I grabbed a beer. The crowd consisted of all white people, mostly couples in kakis and easter egg halter tops. Everyone was pretty hammered, and already entering each other’s personal space.

There was a fairly small white screen placed front-center of the stage. The lights went down, and a video started, featuring the two dudes from Capital Cities, racing around in some animated car. This video went on for like, 5 minutes. At the end, a preposterously cheesy ad voice came on and announced, “This performance is sponsored by Forza.”

Are we for real? Was I just presented a wonky ad to “view this concert” after I paid (ok I didn’t pay this time) good money to be away from my computer screen for the night? Am I actually on Youtube right now? Oh wait, no. I’m at the Fox, trying to watch a concert.

Essentially, Forza replicated their tech conference booth sponsorship experience by paying for an overpriced projector screen to display their brand in a high traffic area, and pass out “swag” to random people in hopes to make some “impressions.”

The sheer laziness of this marketing campaign was shocking. This gaming company didn’t even try to be clever exposing their brand to me. They instead chose to present the ad through a method through which they were familiar, and attempt to hypnotize me into spending money that way.

After that nauseating experience, I began to question Capital Cities’ entire authenticity as a band: what kind of group would sign up for that type of nonsense, and agree to let a screen be placed in front of their fans before a performance?

This band played 3 cover songs: Stayin’ Alive (Bee Gees), Nothing Compares to You (Sinead O’Connor) and Holiday (Madonna). They played Safe & Sound twice, along with a song that mentions Michael Jackson’s Thriller and Farrah Fawcett hair.

During the Farrah Fawcett song, I watched this dude sing “like Michael Jackson’s Thriller” about 7 times, each time reenacting the signature Thriller claw move. Every single time.

Even the original songs were utilizing nostalgia tactics designed for a specific target demographic with disposable income to attend this concert. Is this millennial marketing at its worst?

The whole performance was staged. From the horribly choreographed throwback moves, to the trumpet player jumping on an amp at a light change, highlighting his silhouette for a photo opp.

I had gone to the Fox to celebrate the arts. Instead I was given a commercial followed by some derivative, data-driven marketing ploy to generate $$ under the guise of music.

I felt this same sense of betrayal after watching one of Aziz Ansari’s stand-ups. His jokes strangely felt unoriginal and inauthentic. It all seemed too constructed, like things I would hear at a house party. Not to say that’s a bad thing, but more that it appeared extremely accessible and safe, without pushing any sort of boundaries.

He uses words like “face” and “nachos”, and he references emojis and Snapchat. He also used “punched him in the neck” to get the crowd laughing, which I swear I have heard in more than one movie or sitcom. When I brought up this speculation in conversation, someone pointed me to the article that shows that he is actually using analytics to gauge who his audience is, and how to cater his jokes to that audience.

Unfortunately, the cost of applying data-driven tactics to the arts will result in uninspiring, “race to the bottom” content, leaving the audience with a subpar experience, and something we have seen before.

Intellectually, I can follow why Capital Cities would want to control the predictability of the bands’ revenue by creating songs that appeal to millennials. I comprehend why Forza would apply an ad campaign designed for a tech conference to a new channel (same demographic, right?). I mean, they are just reading the same VentureBeat sponsored articles we are. I can also understand why Ansari would use data-driven metrics to ensure he generates as much profit per show as possible.

And don’t get me wrong, he is hilarious in Parks & Rec.

I guess my point is that creativity cannot be measured in the same capacity as web site visits, nor should it be directly correlated to profit, because it ruins the whole experience. It’s one thing for a random gaming company to come in and try out a new “ad channel”, but if we are starting to create fake bands and fake songs for revenue, and comedians are resorting to analytics for business success, there is something seriously flawed with our priorities.

True artistic genius spreads in a completely organic way, and is what makes it so beautiful. When we try to force these things, we make it that much more difficult for real artists to reveal themselves, and we forget what we are really looking for in live performances.

Art is a lie that leads to truth – Picasso

Training for a Triathlon: Diet

Since coming back to SF in 2011, I’ve experimented a lot with the 4 Hour Body Diet and the Paleo Diet, while maintaining the pesca-vegan restrictions .*

Since it’s pretty hard to abide by the Paleo or 4HB diet without eating meat, I’m going to use a blend of both diets to allow myself for more food options. For the next few months, I’ll be logging my food intake, and adhere to the following guidelines:

  • No grains, wheat, bread (no pasta, no bread, no quinoa, no beer)
  • No candy, sugars, processed junk food (delineating from Paleo allowing myself packaged foods like salmon jerky and canned foods)
  • Eat fruits, veggies and natural oils (delineating from 4HB eating fruit)
  • Eat legumes (delineating from Paleo)
  • Eat tofu/soy products (delineating from Paleo, and a bit from 4HB)
  • Allow for three cheat meals OR one cheat day per week (choose between 4BH or Paleo phase I method)

I hope to learn some new recipes and ideas for quick food intake, and some tips to share!

*check out my diet history below for my diet evolution

My Diet History

When I moved to Barcelona at 22 years old, I landed a job at a small startup, where I would work for the next 2 years. The transition ended up being a lot harder than I expected, and my physical health suffered from it. 

I was working extremely long hours (read: 9am to 2am during three week sprints), had only my roommates for friends, and was eating frozen pizza and greasy sandwiches daily, out of sheer convenience.

I went back home in December for Christmas, and my mom must have noticed my extra “luggage” I was bringing home with me, and bought me a book on what she thought was a “working girls’ guide to cooking healthy.”

It actually was a book advocating veganism, and while the title is a little crass, it served as a real wake up call.

Coming back to Barcelona, I went vegan cold turkey (pun intended), and quit coffee and alcohol for three months.

I was a vegan for three years (!), until about a year ago I began integrating fish into my diet again. Now I like to call myself a pesca-vegan, a word my friend has coined: fish yes, dairy no, eggs no, meat no.

Needless to say, diet is a big part of my life, and something I think about a lot. That being said, I’m not someone who has time to drain my own almond milk, and gram all of my amazing quinoa recipes with a million hash tags. Convenience is pretty important to me, I’m pretty picky, and I don’t mind eating the same thing every day. This all correlates to being a pretty bad dinner date.

My only goal is to avoid getting cancer, through the vast amount hormones found in our meat and dairy. Doing that helps me sleep at night. My restrictions also keep me from gravitating towards the chips and donuts, and opting for something a little better for me.

Training for a Triathlon: Intro

Hey yall,

I’ve decided to sign up for my first Olympic Triathlon! While I have experience with competitive swimming (albeit during 3rd and 4th grade), I have been deathly afraid of any exercise that requires chlorine and a one piece speedo.

To keep things interesting, I’m going to document and record my progress, challenges and tips throughout my training.

I’m using the training as a means to get healthy and getting disciplined in a strict regimen.

During college, I trained for three hours a day, six days a week. Knowing how much energy and confidence you can have by pushing the limits with your body, I’d like to find a way to balance work, hobbies, social duties and physical fitness in a sustainable manner.

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