Yesterday I was served this ad as the pre-roll in front of a TLC music video on YouTube and kind of freaked out. It was such a profound departure from the typical ad aimed at women, it felt like I’d seen a unicorn. I then proceeded to devote way too much of my day trying to find it afterwards. I reloaded “Creep” at least 50 times to try to get the same ad again. I finally ended up tweeting at @SecretDeodorant to help me track it down. (Thanks, Secret!)
“Did you know, striking a confident pose for 2 minutes can leave you feeling fearless all day?”
Did you know that this is actually true?
As social psychologist, Ann Cuddy, explains in her Ted talk, this is actually true whether you believe it or not! Our body language affects not only how others see us, but it can also change how we see ourselves. She goes on to show how “power posing” — standing in a posture of confidence, even when we don’t feel confident — can alter testosterone and cortisol levels in the brain (all things that affect perspiration, by the way) and may even have an impact on our chances for success.
When people feel happy they smile, but conversely, holding a pen between your teeth, which forces the facial muscles into a smile, will actually make you feel happier. So you can stand there doing the “Wonder Woman” and feel silly the whole time you’re doing it and it doesn’t even matter. Our minds change our bodies, and likewise, our bodies can change our minds. Posture can become power. For a product so intimately tied to the mind-body connection, this message is a no-brainer.
Oh, hey, sup, creative directors and brand managers: MAKE MORE ADS LIKE THAT.
Make less ads like this:
You can either have your intended target associate your brand with a message that depicts them as clowns, and experiences that make them feel foolish — the kinds of things we all try to avoid, forget, and deny. Or you can associate your brand with experiences that LITERALLY make people feel assertive, confident, and powerful — a sensation we all crave like a drug fix, and cling to with all our might in the face of an uncertain world.
In contrast, here’s what it looks like when technology ads rely on pushing the lingua franca of features instead of the native tongue of *experience*:
The technology pervading our lives has brought with it a new colonizing language. Even the term “UX” has become mainstream enough within the cultural lexicon that it can now referenced explicitly, as in the new MySpace ad. But more importantly, we have evolved a shared vocabulary for technology that goes beyond the rudimentary terms of features and specifications. In the years since Apple first pioneered and perfected this approach, we have all become fluent in technology’s emotional language.
First of all, do yourself a favor and watch this 2 minutes and 44 seconds of utter awesomeness above.
Then recall the ending of Iron Man 3. In fact, recall the entire 130 minutes of its insulting, technology guilt-laden self-hatred.
Or better yet, don’t do that.
If you’ve been here since 2010, you know that I have had a special place in my heart for the character I called “The First 21st Century Superhero.” Tony Stark — as reimagined by Jon Favreau, and reincarnated by Robert Downey Jr. — and I have had an unexpectedly personal relationship these past 3 years. Ever since Favreau retweeted my post and it took on a life of its own and became the most popular thing I’d ever written. From the intimacy of Tony Stark’s relationship with his gadgets, to his eschew of a secret identity in favor of that uniquely post-digital virtue of radical transparency, to his narcissism, Favreau’s Iron Man reflected a radical departure from the tropes that defined the 20th century superhero.
I could tell you about how Shane Black, who directed this third installment in the Iron Man franchise tried his best to undo all that. How deliberately he went after the things that not only made Tony Stark so brilliantly modern, but also lay at the very heart of his character. I could tell you about the relentless “techno fear” that ran like an electromagnetic current through the entire movie from start — on New Year’s Eve 1999, ground zero of the Y2k paranoia — to finish — with Stark throwing his arc reactor heart into the ocean like the he’s an old lady, letting go of a luminescent, blue burden at the end of fucking Titanic. Or some shit.
I could tell you how this conflicted, 20th century relationship to technology, wielded with all the subtlety of Catholic guilt, bashed all of us over the head like a blunt instrument the first time we saw Pepper and Tony on screen together — but wait! That’s not actually Tony. It’s a Siri-powered autonomous-driving Iron Man suit, and it’s just asked Pepper to, quote, “Kiss me on my mouth slit.”
(I seriously feel like I need to go wash my hands with soap now after typing those words.)
And yet, under Favreau’s direction, Pepper kissing Tony’s helmet in Iron Man 2 was most likely one of the sexiest moments Gwyneth Paltrow has ever had on film:
I could tell you how Black drove Tony Stark into hiding (while Favreau celebrated his coming out) and stripped him of his suit and access to his technology, making him fight his battles in the flesh for most of the film. We’re to believe Stark built a more advanced suit while a POW in a cave in fucking Afghanistan than he could on his credit limit in Tennessee??
I could tell you how the thing I was thinking about the most as I walked out of the theater — even more than that Black got thisclose to turning Pepper into a legitimate superhero in her own right, which would have been practically the only 21st-century compliant move he’d have made in the whole movie, but then, of course Tony had to “fix” her back to normal — was:
THANK GOD STEVE JOBS DID NOT LIVE TO SEE TONY STARK THROW HIS HEART INTO THE FUCKING OCEAN.
Do you remember the love that the first Iron Man movie, and the Tony Stark in it, had for his first suit? The one he made in captivity. The painstaking, terrifying labor that birthed this child of necessity? The metal manifestation of the power of ingenuity and creativity and talent that won him his freedom? Remember his second suit? The one he built once he got back home. The hotter, cooler, younger sibling of the scrap heap he’d left in the desert. The first real Iron Man suit. How much fun he had making it, tweaking it, perfecting it, and how much fun we had going along on the joyride? Tony Stark fought a custody battle against the American government for the suit in Iron Man 2. He said no one else could have it. He said the suit he created was a part of him, that he and it were one. And we all intimately understood exactly what he meant. Because even if the rest of us don’t actually literally plug our gadgets into our chest cavities, 80% of us go t0 sleep with our phone by our bedside.
I could tell you how Shane Black changed all that for Tony, replaced his passion for innovation with a 20th century irreconcilability. His suits, once so precious the greatest military superpower in the world couldn’t force him to part with just one, have been rendered as meaningless as disposable cups. For Black’s Iron Man, technology still has friction. He can “disconnect,” can “unplug.” This feels like a “real” thing to do. As if there is still a world that isn’t part of the digital world. It’s not just an anachronistic, Gen X misunderstanding of the Millennial reality, it kills what makes Tony Stark, Tony Stark.
“We create our own demons” are the first words we hear as the movie begins. Stark is speaking in voiceover, and this becomes his ongoing refrain throughout the movie. We create our own demons. We create our own demons. By the end, when Stark destroys all of his dozens of indistinguishable suits — because they are “distractions” (the actual word he uses, twice), because we create our own demons and these are his creations, because (and this is the most fucked up part of all) he thinks this is what will make Pepper happy — it is the moment that Black destroys the soul of this character.
Imagine Steve Jobs throwing the iPhone prototype into the ocean and walking away.
Speaking to an audience at Standford in the wake of the Social Network, Mark Zuckerberg said, “The framing [of the movie] is that the whole reason for making Facebook is because I wanted to get girls, or wanted to get into clubs…. They just can’t wrap their head around the idea that someone might build something because they like building things.”
This is why Tony Stark builds things. Because he likes building things. Technology is not a “distraction” from something realer, it is a part of what IS real. The digital and the analog worlds aren’t binary. They are inextricably intertwined. Technology is as much a part of us now as it has always been for Tony Stark — corporeally and philosophically. And there is no going back. Texting is not a distraction from the “realness” of the telephone — itself, a completely unnatural, manufactured, awkward medium that we all learned to take communication through for granted. Electricity is not a distraction from the “realness” of candle-light. Driving a car is not a distraction from the “realness” of riding a horse.
Which brings us back to this impeccably clever Audi commercial.
Featuring the two actors who’ve played Spock, himself an embodiment of hybridity, in a battle that starts out via iPad chess, doubles down over the phone, escalates by car, and culminates with the finishing touch of a Vulcan nerve pinch. It makes the depiction of the permeable membrane between the digital and the analog, of the seamless absorption of a “fictional” personality into the “real” self, and of unapologetic techno-joy look effortlessly cool.
The first 21st century superhero is a hedonistic, narcissistic, even nihilistic, adrenaline junkie, billionaire entrepreneur do-gooder. If Peter Parker’s life lesson is that “with great power comes great responsibility,” Tony Stark’s is that with great power comes a shit-ton of fun.
You can’t get any more Gen Y than that.
Three Mays later, Tony Stark has changed. He’s entirely forgotten how to have fun. He doesn’t even get joy out of building things anymore — hell, he was having a better time when he had a terminal illness, back when Favreau was at the helm. Under Black’s direction, Stark doesn’t seem excited about anything. He’s on Xanax for his panic attacks — I’m assuming. Since there isn’t a single thing that fills him with anywhere near the kind of fascination Leonard Nimoy and Zachary Quinto express as they watch a self-driving Audi pull out of a golf club driveway. As Black sees it, to embrace the technological innovation that is in Tony Stark’s blood — both figuratively and literally — to create something that isn’t a demon, to want to build things because he likes building things, all of that would somehow make Stark less human.
But as the mixed-race Spock always knew — what makes us human can’t be measured in degrees.
For anyone who knew WTF social media was before they got a Facebook account in 2007 when everyone else they knew was doing it — you may understand.
Myspace was built on music. When Friendster, which preceded Myspace by a year, started shutting down accounts created for non-real person, individual entities, Myspace opened its doors to bands. As these acts brought, and built, their fanbases online, Myspace grew, until, without understanding its full meaning or potential Myspace sold its hockey-stick growth curve to News Corp for $580 million back before you started paying attention, in 2006. From there, its fate was sealed. Myspace should have become THE online destination for music fans, the interactive MTV of my generation — but it wouldn’t. With Fox as its new parent, Myspace was doomed to creating an ever clunkier product in the name of increasing ad space — which is all News Corp could really understand about the medium, anyway. It opened up an ever widening gap which a “cleaner,” “simpler” competitor was perfectly poised to exploit.
But something strange happened on the way Myspace’s 10-year-long journey to become what it always should have been. Facebook bloated up, IPOed, fizzled. I cant imagine referring to Facebook as “clean” and “simple” now. Can you? I’m not sure I even really fully understand all the profile and content settings, let alone the endless apps and features. I use Facebook for a much more reduced function, essentially in deliberate spite of all its bells and whistles — I use it to keep up with people I already know. This was always what it was intended for. The musicians I know who use Facebook as a channel to engage their fans are the first to admit that for their needs they’ve basically had to hack the platform, contorting it around what it was natively designed to accommodate. Connecting fans with the music and musicians they love is something that was backed in on top of the original Facebook idea. It’s not part of Facebook’s DNA. It was Myspace’s.
We shall see if, under new management (which includes a musician), the new Myspace product itself lives up to the hype and the promise, but in the meantime, what we have is this video, which is perhaps the most elegant strategic execution I’ve seen all year.
Who am I to say I want you back?
When you were never mine to give away.
I was waiting for a long, long time for you to feel the same.
Who are you to look at me like that?
Is there something more you need to say?
I haven’t loved you in a long, long time,
so why do I feel this way?
Can you hear my heartbeat?
Please don’t stand so close to me.
Can you hear my heartbeat still beating strong?
Maybe I’m ashamed to want you back.
Maybe I’m afraid you’ll never stay.
Thought I hated you a long, long time.
There was my mistake.
I just can’t pretend that nothing’s changed.
Can you comprehend just what to say?
If you break my heart a second time,
I might never be the same.
Can you hear my heartbeat?
Please don’t stand so close to me.
Can you hear my heartbeat still beating strong?
If you’ve been in the social game a long, long time, you understand. There is an explicit double meaning in the lyrics of love lost about our relationship with Myspace; about Myspace’s relationship with us. We aren’t just watching a product demo, we are suddenly thrust into something else. We’re in on something with Myspace. It’s INTIMATE. And EMOTIONAL.
And if the soundtrack can do that, then it means something else too, something even more powerful. If the music in this video could get you to understand all this, to know all this, to feel all this, then the video is a statement about the very power of music itself. About what music can do, how it can affect us, what it’s capable of.
In the decade since Myspace first launched and then declined into spammy, irrelevant obsolescence, record stores closed and the music industry shrank and a gazillion new social music apps and platforms came and went and pivoted and the internet killed the rock star and turned every band into a startup and nothing arrived to fill the gap left behind by what Myspace should have been. There has always been something missing, and this video makes it clear that its creators know what that black magic element is. What has been missing is an experience that can support, that can reflect, and that’s built for why it is we love music in the first place. THAT is what Myspace was always supposed to have become. And I hope it still does.