Thursday, October 27, 2011

Posted in Arrangement, Art, Business

Advertising and the Occupy Movement

Adbusters, the media watchdog publication, initiated the idea of Occupy Wall Street as a means to bring to light the inequalities in social and economic forces, specifically with commerce, financial services and government influences on these sectors. Although they are not the driving force behind the movement, the momentum that has been generated by it brings along a variety of various advocacy groups. Unfortunately it's blurring the line between what the movement is intended to bring to light, to being a general catch all for all sorts of inequalities.

Recently, a set of offshoot Occupy movements propose that we question where we spend our money and to which corporations. A Black Friday movement where one day in November (November 25th - the traditional retailer's Black Friday after US Thanksgiving), consumers are asked not to make purchases at any of the major big box stores. It has also evolved to the whole idea of not making any Christmas purchases at any of those same stores. The idea behind the movement is to extend the message that consumers want corporations to change their attitudes towards the inequalities within their organization whether it is pricing, staffing, or profit distribution. However there is a real distinct possibility that this would backfire, as the people that the movement is supposed to help may find that their corporate management will respond by trimming their staff and any inefficiencies they felt were necessary to maintain their profit margins.

The movement certainly is suggesting to buy local and more importantly to those boutiques and retailers that do not have a large corporate umbrella over them. This certainly poses many interesting challenges from an advertising point of view, and whether one might find this an opportunistic time to advertise, one cannot ignore the opportunity for small businesses to take up the charge and be part of this.

Advertising has always been an opportunistic medium to deliver a message that covers the needs, desires and wants of the public and their interests. However, a business who's interested in taking advantage of this must consider carefully how they advertise. Here's some of my thoughts on this specific subject that could be considered:

Selling local, means supplied locally.
Every business whether small or large, has many channels of suppliers and vendors. If you're a retailer considering methods to support the movement, think about your product offerings before you begin your campaign in this socially sensitive environment. It would be far more damaging to your business if it was later highlighted that you're merely another channel to funnel the consumer's funds to a corporation that they are protesting against. Look at alternatives, and a supply change that is more local, or at least more socially sensitive to your customer's concerns.

Buy low, sell for the same price as big competitors.
As a small business, you can also put pressure on suppliers to give better deals and better margins to you. Be honest to the public about any savings. A consumer is likely going to deal with a store for the same price of a product where you might make a larger margin on a product over a bigger retailer. This isn't something you can advertise easily, but if you're able to pressure your suppliers as the alternative retailer then through your sales force you're able to educate your consumers and also have more room too negotiate price with them.

Of course small retailers generally don't have the same kind of purchasing power as a big box store. A buying group is an option for them to consider and they could consider teaming up with other similar businesses to garner better pricing. For suppliers, if this movement truly hurts the big box stores, are going to be looking for other channels to distribute their products and will look to these smaller retailers to redistribute their products.

As a distribution company, reconsider your current pricing strategies.
As the Occupy movement gains momentum, preparing for those that will flock to local smaller businesses will be important to your distribution model. Look at how you can support those smaller retailers not only in pricing strategies, but also in cooperative advertising. If you cannot reduce price, then assisting smaller retailers in their advertising efforts can increase the awareness of the availability of your product through those channels. By shifting your co-op dollars to the smaller vendors, you can certainly redistribute the supply to meet the changing locations of demand.

Advertise your sustainable practices.
Sustainability is the perfect opportunity to outline the fact of where and how a consumer's purchase is being impacted on both the environmental front, but also on how both your business and the product is sustained financially. Consider your disclosure policies and also how your products are distributed. What green practices are played by each supplier, and what measures are being taken to ensure that the business channel is being sustained through their best practices for the environment and for the financial well being of the companies involved. Are supplies using a low carbon footprint model of distribution? This fits very well with the idea that supplies are local and local distribution has the lowest impact on the environment, but high impact on the local economy.

Advertise your local suppliers and support.
If you're a big corporate entity (or a franchisee of a big corporation), you're best to advertise and express your efforts and support in the local community. Consumers are generally driven by strong socially conscious retailers, especially those that support local efforts and communities. As the Occupy movement continues to garner support, big companies need to clearly define what they do to support the markets they sell into. Social marketing is very important in this regards and must be expressed in a genuine fashion.

Don't use a supplier that believes in price fixing.
Although price fixing is something that usually benefits the consumer, this is something in this condition may be more damaging. Because each retailer may have different margins over others, the companies that are more likely to benefit from price fixing are those retailers that have larger buying clout. Because of this, a retailer should never agree to a price fixing strategy. Even if a small retailers has to sell slightly higher than a big box store, with the Occupy movement in mind, consumers will be more likely to ignore the subtle price differences to support a smaller local shop.

Don't expect this to last long.
Eventually, this movement will either create the damage it intends on doing, or it will diffuse itself. The strategies you employ today will certainly change after the movement is over, but also does not mean you need to go back to the old ways. By carrying the momentum that is generated, and also by developing stronger & better relationships with suppliers and retailers, consumers just may continue to shop this way for a while. However consumers are always driven by convenience, which is something that smaller retailers are challenged by. Don't expect that consumers will stay away from shopping malls or big box stores for long, but if your business employs a strong campaign to get these consumers into the door and maintain a good customer service program with them, then expect that loyalty will go a long way after the Occupy movement has come and gone.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Posted in Arrangement, Art, Business

The Micro Four Third's Holy Trinity of Primes

Olympus M.Zuiko 12mm F/2, Panasonic/Leica Summilux 25mm F/1.4 & Olympus M.Zuiko 45mm F/1.8
Undoubtedly the three most significant lenses to grace the Micro Four Thirds format in the last 4 months are the prime lens offerings from both Panasonic and Olympus. These three lenses (in my opinion) make the perfect trio of primes that suit this format. The Olympus 12mm F/2, Leica 25mm F/1.4 and the Olympus 45 F/1.8 (you'll fine my personal review of each lens on under the user comments of 'kinematic').

Olympus Pen E-P3 with the 12mm, 25mm & 45mm.
Small enough to all fit on a window sill
On the 135 full frame format, some might say there are combinations like: 35mm F/1.4, 50mm F/1.2 & 85mm F/1.8 or 50mm F/1.2, 85mm F/1.2 & 135 F/2. Regardless, what seems to make a decent trio of lenses among most photographers, is being able to find a range that doesn't overlap the other in terms of function and accessibility.

I've never been one to buy into the idea of the 'Trinity' of lenses mostly because I tend to just collect lots of lenses on a whole, each for their different purposes and different attributes or a good quality zoom that covers all sorts of ranges. But in my evolution into the Micro Four Thirds system the biggest thing I appreciate is being able to keep my system very compact, but having the flexibility to do lenses changes that don't weigh down my shoulder or back on an outing.

Leica 25mm F/1.4 w/fill flash.
Whether you believe in the system or not, for me, the biggest thrill is being able to get high quality images with a small compact system that rivals my bigger bodies. These three lenses makes the difference between what some might call a toy system, to a seriously grown up, enthusiasts or even professional set up. 

I've seen arguments about bokeh or equivalent field of views compared to full frame, and frankly I think some people are just too hung up on justifying the systems that they have invested in, rather than opening up the perspective and possibilities of something more compact. I can tell you I certainly was one of those types until I got my hands onto the system and really worked with it (and I don't mean just trying it out in a store or even using it for a day).

Olympus 45mm F/1.8
In my past blog post about comparing the 5Dmk2 vs the E-P3 I looked at how the 25mm compared as a standard and parts of the results were different; frankly it was pretty minor when you looked at the overall results that came off of the smaller format. It's also important to look at individual results because in the end, the clients or the audience really doesn't care except for final results.

In the past couple of months, I've been pushing and challenging the system in all sorts of scenarios, and for the most part, it has met my expectations and then some. Bringing it along on all sorts of shoots as a back-up to my bigger bodies, I have ended up using it as a primary camera in some cases. The image quality and flexibility of the system quickly became apparent.

Olympus 12mm F/2
On one interior shoot, I had brought with me a classic 5D body with a set of wide angle lenses. At some point I found it much easier to use the Olympus Pen with the 12mm F/2. I had initially used that combination to look quickly for some compositional ideas while the bigger system sat on the tripod. I actually found that the photos I were taking with the Pen were sufficient enough that I didn't even need to retake them with the 5D.

handholding detail shots are a snap!
The other benefit I found with the smaller system was the ability to take detail shots without needing to set-up tripods or moving around things. Leaving the primary system on the tripod, I just walked around with the pen to catch the detail shots necessary for completing my shoot.

The 12mm didn't disappoint me. It had little to no distortion and the corner to corner sharpness matched what my Canon EF 24mm F/1.4L II lens produces (one of my favourite lenses to use). 

Of course most important in this whole mix is the price of this entire system. My 5DmkII with a 24mm lens runs around $4,000 USD. The E-P3 with the 12mm runs around $1,600. Certainly the resolution is a huge difference (21mp vs 12mp) but 12mp is more than plenty for a single full page magazine ad. All three lenses and the E-P3 still came in under $2600 which is what I sold my 7D and 100-400L to finance this system.

Olympus 45mm F/1.8
One of the other things I've had the opportunity to spend more time with is street photography. The winning combination of all three allows me a whole level of flexibility that the larger format systems were too unwieldy, obtrusive, and frankly made me look like a target during night photography. But despite individual comfort levels, I like the fact that I could easily put a lens in each jacket pocket and not need to carry a bulky bag making my outings more mobile.

Each of the three lenses are a blast to use on the street and each one have their pluses and minuses. Being prime lenses means you have to be aware of the field of view you're working with, but once you set your mind to what you're hoping to shoot, you can easily fit the session to a single lens. However the convenience of the other two lenses still remain at pocket's distance, getting yourself into the idea that you don't need to change lenses a lot is actually quite liberating.

12mm using the 'Snap-Focus' for zone focus
Aside from the bonus of adapting other lenses, I found this combination of lenses really covers most of my applications. The 12mm alone has a snap focus ring, so without using any viewfinder or preview, I'm able to zone focus my subjects and expect everything to be in focus, just like using classic rangefinders like the Leica system. Speaking of Leica, the Panasonic produced, Leica Summilux 25mm F/1.4 gives me the same compact image quality of a rangefinder, but also has the advantage of modern auto focus.

Evening Walk Through the Garden City
Leica 25mm F/1.4
Even in night photography, the lack of a focus ring with distance marking with the 25mm F/1.4 is really not a major deal. The Pen's autofocus is fast enough that even in low light and the 25mm F/1.4, that it's really quite easy to capture images on the street.

Even if you're a bokeh snob you'll be hard pressed to get this kind of image quality in a compact system from a zoom lens. Certainly one could argue that you could easily cover this entire range with something like a 24-70 F/2.8 and similar depth of field equivalencies but even that still runs nearly $4,000 again while the Pen and all three lenses are still well under that and far lighter.

The thing that many critics seem to overlook about the whole depth of field equivalency or the whole crop factor thing, is simply from a light transmission point of view, regardless of depth of field equivalency, an F/1.4 is still going to see better in less light than an F/2.8 and is the only real combination that can be used efficiently handheld in low light. That is certainly the difference of getting the shot or not.

Evening Walk Through the Garden City
Leica 25mm F/1.4
Despite all the fun I've been having with these three lenses, I am certainly finding more opportunities to use this in a professional and primary setting. Even in the classroom, I've been using this system to teach photography from. Frankly if I was to start all over again, I'd pair this with a medium format system like the Pentax 645D and never look back at the 135 format ever again. Of course in the end, I still love my 5Dmk2 and it's lens line up and all things said and done, the experience of getting out there and shooting is far more important than the system you use. The trinity of Micro Four Thirds primes does this for me, and being able to sit back and enjoy my world is far more important than getting hung up on who's system is better than the others... my motto for this system is simple:  see, shoot, serenity...

Hot Cocoa
45mm F/1.8... at the end of the day, relax and enjoy.