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The Digiday Agency conference was a wealth of information on the ever-expanding digital ad world.

The Digiday Agency conference was a wealth of information on the ever-expanding digital ad world.

This week, it dawned on me that the world of digital advertising has become a morning commute from hell. I envision sun glare, tractor trailers overturned on off ramps, gaper delays, highway construction crews, crumbling infrastructure, and side streets not designed to handle the traffic they are swollen with.

What led me to that conclusion was sitting in on the excellent, well-attended Digiday Agency conference on Monday. Digiday assembled a sterling lineup of industry experts from the agency, publisher, and technology sides who made individual presentations, participated in panel discussions, and offered wide-ranging articulate opinions on the landscape of all things consumer digital advertising. I was probably the only business-to-business guy and one of the few creatives present, so I came to listen and learn. Here is what I came away with:

  • Things continue to morph faster than anyone can keep up with, let alone get ahead of. Digital now encompasses digital display, search, social, video/rich media, mobile, and more across a vast span of publisher and affiliate sites, plus desktop, laptop, tablet, and smartphones that accept advertising. Throw in TV advertising that leverages and attempts to cross-link digital, social, etc. and you have media planning that often collapses under its own cleverness and targeting potential.
  • Analytics and metrics are overrated. One of the more incredible statements of the conference was a derisive one about digital display advertising measurement being still stuck in the stone age — specifically, the continued importance placed on click-through rates. The speaker noted that the demographic of those most likely to click on display ads is populated with low/no income types, online gamblers, and assorted tire kickers.
  • Video, Social, and Mobile are the future. Pretty obvious shift driven generationally and by tablets and smartphones. Of course, by the time that the ad industry sorts it all out, we will be on to other new technologies and tools.
  • Remarketing (retargeting) via browser cookies of those who visit advertiser web sites is only going to get bigger. A number of speakers used the funnel analogy of awareness advertising at the top and very targeted, directed messaging at the bottom to catch buyers when they are now informed and ready to make a purchase.  The theory is great. I just don’t believe that ads relentlessly targeting people whom cookie data has identified as hot prospects is going to be ultimately successful or a great idea. I still believe that the average person is suspicious of Big Brother approaches and privacy concerns trump marketing opportunities.
  • Digital media buying has been reduced to an RFP process. Publishers spoke about how hard it was working with agencies in digital space because the media planning contacts are all junior people and there is a revolving door between agencies. Not much time or room for relationship building and value adding when it becomes a “give me your best deal” RFP request.
  • Agencies are being courted as digital advertising venture capitalists. That seemed like a completely foreign concept to me because running lean and mean continues to be the norm outside of Madison Avenue; however, a number of shops spoke very intelligently on this subject.

Ironically, a couple of days after the conference, I came across this article on Adobe investing heavily in traditional agency territory and challenging Madison Avenue in the data sweepstakes of this space. There were a lot of technology companies like Google present at the conference, but Adobe wasn’t one of them. I suspect they will be heavily discussed when Digiday holds the west coast version of this event in Los Angeles in early 2012.

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PNG Screenshot of President Obama's Long Form Birth Certificate

PNG Screenshot of President Obama's Long Form Birth Certificate

Last week’s look at two humorous political videos triggered an appreciative response from Philadelphia Republican mayoral candidate, John Featherman, whose campaign produced one of the videos (we can’t wait for the next). This week’s post is about President Obama’s birth certificate, but I don’t expect him to weigh in since his release of the long-form was intended to put the matter to rest. It did. For one day. And that is why we are wandering from a marketing opinion this week, but staying within the fields of graphic arts and public relations.

The afternoon after national relief that the matter of the President’s official birth place had been settled once and for all, my business partner and our art director, Gerry Giambattista, heard a caller to Michael Medved’s radio program, who identified himself as being a graphic artist and was expressing amazement that the long sought document, digitally delivered from the White House web site in PDF file format, when opened in Adobe Illustrator is actually a layered file. A many layered file. Michael Medved quickly dismissed the caller with a combination of skepticism and the realization that none of this translates well to radio.

It most definitely piqued our curiosity, however. Gerry opened the digital version of the President’s birth certificate on his computer in Adobe Illustrator and sure enough saw a multitude of layers. What does this mean? With all the glitches and weird results in the digital world, that is hard to answer with complete certainty. However, when a print document is scanned, with OCR (Optical Character Recognition) active, it should, to the best of our professional knowledge and experience, create a PDF file with just two layers, one for text and one for background. I am immediately reminded of the oft-quoted Marx Brothers line from Duck Soup, “Who you gonna believe, me or your own eyes?”

In trying to get our heads around this, and realizing that the Medved caller was maybe not the first person to explore this, we Googled the terms “Obama birth certificate” and “layered file.” If you do the same, you will see a long list of sites that have already created tutorial videos and detailed technical examinations of this.

When an artist does digital imaging work on a photograph in Adobe Photoshop, or builds a complex illustration in Adobe Illustrator, he or she adds a variety of layers to the image. The existence of more than one layer here raises question whether this document was created or changed in one of these programs vs. merely being scanned from a print document. For instance, saving the scanned document as a jpeg format file might have avoided this issue (more on that at the end of this post).

Here are some examples of what Gerry and I saw and found perplexing about the President’s multi-layered birth certificate file:

What is going on with left margin and upper left corner of the certificate?

What is going on with left margin and upper left corner of the certificate?

Box in upper right shows all the different layers; this layer has a few things missing.

Box in upper right shows all the different layers; this layer has a few things missing.

In each layer, you can select individual items (like this date) and move them elsewhere.

In each layer, you can select individual items (like this date) and move them elsewhere.

This post isn’t about conspiracy theories or political motivations, but it is worth noting one other strange thing about this file. If it were doctored, it was done so in a pretty visibly obvious manner by an Adobe amateur. Anyone who wanted to cover his or her tracks could flatten the layers and the file would be left with one layer.

With so many dead ends to intriguing questions, it was time for me to phone a friend, so I posed this digital weirdness to my chums, Pete, Glenn, and Steve, whose professional credentials for this matter are that they cover the political, technical, and pop culture spectrum so completely that our team would every week win the weekly trivia contest on our college’s radio station. Now equipped with Google, they came back with a wide range of articles that provided credible answers on scanning, software, the President’s maternity hospital name, and Hoover’s hat size (a tip of the trivia hat to anyone who remembers the sitcom that reference comes from). For me, the most convincing ones are these from National Review and FoxNews, because they come from sources not usually considered friendly to President Obama’s agenda.

Nearly satisfied myself that the multi-layered mystery could be put to rest, I was troubled by one additional thing. The expert in the Fox article is a leading software trainer and Adobe-certified expert. So, what does Adobe, the company and the creator of the Creative Suite of all the software involved here (Illustrator, Acrobat, Photoshop), have to say on this subject. With so many graphic artists weighing in, surely the company would be all over this story on its software, because if ever there is a “teachable moment,” with a huge global audience, this is it. A visit to Adobe’s home page revealed silence on the subject. So did the News Center. But then, I found a link to Adobe Featured Blogs with nearly 20 separate Corporate and Product blogs. Amazingly, the term Obama birth certificate yielded zero results.

Adobe's silence on this subject makes them look like A dope.

Adobe's silence on this subject makes them look like A dope.

This is what I would call an epic fail by an otherwise highly reputable, creative product rich, digitally savvy company. I don’t know whether this was a busy week in San Jose. Or whether legal and PR concluded this is too hot of a hot potato, but silence is really not an answer. The reputation of the leader of the free world was being questioned because of nuances in your software, and you as a company have nothing official to say on the subject? Wow. Not a good week to be bogged down in debugging the latest version of Dreamweaver.

A last word (and image) on this fascinating subject came to me this morning in a viral e-mail forwarded from my cousin Donna.

Einstein = Monroe = Sanity Check

Einstein = Monroe = Sanity Check

It is visual non-holographic trickery, which works on a PC but not mobile devices and hopefully is not an indicator of middle age eyesight. Anyway, keep looking at this picture of Albert Einstein as you step back 15 feet or more and you will see him transform into Marilyn Monroe (how’s that for a new theory of relativity?). Don’t know how some graphic artist did this, but I guarantee it began life as a multi-layered Photoshop file and it’s now a jpeg. “Who you gonna believe, me or your own eyes?”

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