the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Tag: Branding


I miss biting a woman’s arm. I love that. I love to taste the salty skin until she pushes me away and says, “Stop it. That hurts.” But she likes it, despite what she says. There is a time for strength and a time to be dominated. I am the most alive when I am biting her like an animal. She knows it, and takes pride in the mark on her arm, like I had branded her with the heat of my unstoppable passion.

The Walmart Mom Question

Today, as I received yet another email about this post I wrote last week, I understand what it must feel like to be a politician after a story is leaked to the press that YOU DID inhale during that one time you said you smoked pot in college, and now you have to pose  at a press conference, your conservatively-dressed wife at your side, your hooker girlfriend as far away as possible, as you strongly condemn all forms of drug abuse and promise, if elected, to start a new WAR ON DRUGS.

In politics, these leaks always come from an old roommate still pissed at you for stealing his girlfriend twenty-five years ago.  In blogging, proof that bloggers are mostly idiots with no career potential, we LEAK THESE INCRIMINATING STORIES ourselves!

Of course, as blogging becomes more professional, bloggers are growing smarter and more media savvy.   Let me re-phrase that.  Some bloggers are growing smarter.  As we become brand enthusiasts for Kraft and Walmart, we move beyond just telling stories about our lives.   We become representatives of something bigger than us.   A company or a cause.  And that is great.  But it gives me pause.  I wonder if I would have written my post, or many of my posts, if I was a brand ambassador for Nintendo or Sony?  Would my writing feel stifled?  Would there be any repercussions for writing about my past real-life actions?  Is my image, and what it represents to the company, more important to the company than my “real” self?  Is this what the exciting field of social media is all about, turning us all into one-dimensional avatars, the online equivalent of air-brushed celebrities,  so we can effectively market products  to each other?  No wonder why social media mavens love Twitter.   Marketers can speak to many at once, without really interacting with anybody.

Frank Rich, in one of his last NYT columns of 2009, named Tiger Woods as his “person of the decade” because he symbolized everything wrong with a decade where branding, PR, and illusion became more celebrated than the reality outside.  Frank Rich sees the decade as filled with con men, “influentials” eager to bamboozle their gullible victims.

The men who played us for suckers, whether at Citigroup or Fannie Mae, at the White House or Ted Haggard’s megachurch, are the real movers and shakers of this century’s history so far. That’s why the obvious person of the year is Tiger Woods. His sham beatific image, questioned by almost no one until it collapsed, is nothing if not the farcical reductio ad absurdum of the decade’s flimflams, from the cancerous (the subprime mortgage) to the inane (balloon boy).

Enron?  The Housing Market?  The Stock Market?  Baseball players with monster steroid bodies?  “Reality” Television?  Bernie Madoff? That was the decade. The blogosphere mirrored this fakery as marketers, SEO, and PR experts became our gurus, promising us big bucks and millions of followers, but mostly making themselves well-known by writing about marketing.

For six years, Tiger Woods was the multi-million dollar advertising face for Accenture, the big consulting firm.  While this firm has nothing to do with golf,  Accenture liked having their advertising campaign revolve around “high performance,” and Tiger Woods certainly fit that bill. The firm just didn’t realize how “high performance” he was!

Accenture is “a global management consulting, technology services and outsourcing company,” but who cared about any fine print? It was Tiger, and Tiger was it, and no one was to worry about the details behind the mutually advantageous image-mongering. One would like to assume that Accenture’s failure to see or heed any warning signs about a man appearing in 83 percent of its advertising is an anomalous lapse. One would like to believe that business and government clients didn’t hire Accenture just because it had Tiger’s imprimatur. But in a culture where so many smart people have been taken so often, we can’t assume anything.

After Mr. Woods confessed to infidelities, Accenture had a PR nightmare.  They immediately purged all record of Tiger Woods from their existence.

On Sunday, hours after Accenture ended its sponsorship deal, the golfer’s face was replaced by an anonymous skier on the company’s home page. His name was scrubbed almost completely from the rest of the Web site. The company’s advertising campaign is about “high performance,” and Mr. Woods “just wasn’t a metaphor for high performance anymore,” a spokesman for Accenture, Fred Hawrysh, said.

By Monday afternoon, Accenture staffers had swept through the company’s New York office and removed any visible Tiger posters. The next day, marketing and communications employees around the world were asked to turn in any remaining Tiger-emblazoned posters and other materials. Accenture marketing employees did not respond to requests for comment about the Tiger purge on Wednesday.

This was a relationship based solely on business, not unlike so many of the “friendships” we have online, where we follow and unfollow each other daily, depending on the direction of the wind.

So, basically  — Can a Walmart Mom write a post about the time she stole some jewelry at Walmart when she was 17 and still remain a Walmart Mom?

If I start sleeping with a high class hooker, do you want to hear the stories about my adventures, or do you want me to hide them from you, so that I maintain my good “brand.”

Do I know any of you at all?

Your Perception of Me

This post is more for me than you. I’m still playing around with that idea of my “brand.”   Here is a list of seventeen descriptions of Neilochka, this blog’s writer.  Could you do me a favor and pick the three that best describes this person?   I am curious if your perception matches my own sense of reality.   Don’t be shy about saying that I seem like a neurotic mess, if I come across that way.  You can always email me rather than commenting if that makes you more comfortable.

1)    Super-confident storyteller who knows exactly how to manipulate you with words.

2)     Anti-social grouch who finds most of you hypocritical and annoying.

3)     Idealistic sentimentalist who cries at blog posts and loves to unite others in “holiday concerts.”

4)     Gay friendly dude who likes old musicals and talking to platonic girlfriends about their shoes.

5)     Bullshitting male who enjoys nothing better than chatting with “the guys” in a coffee shop.

6)     Polite momma’s boy who is “respectful” of women.

7)     Flirt who dreams of f**king most of the women he has met on their kitchen tables.

8 )    Artsy bohemian who walks around wearing a fedora.

9)     Bookish, pretentious twit.

10)    Imaginative, head-in-the-clouds guy who can never find his own keys or his own underwear.

11)    Screwed-up neurotic, afraid of his own shadow.

12)    Star Trek-loving dork

13)    Ambitious take-no-prisoners go-getter.

14)    Social-climber, constantly on the look-out for the “cooler” people.

15)    Class clown.

16)    Confused and aimless.

17)    Loving ever minute of life!

Searching for My Identity in a Queens McDonald’s

I’ve written about my local Queens McDonald’s before.  It is across the street from my mother’s apartment building.   It is also the worst run McDonald’s in the country.  The managers are so chintzy here that you have to ask for napkins.  They have removed all the napkin dispensers.   And God help you if you ask for another packet of ketchup.

Every morning, I go downstairs to this McDonald’s.  Why?  Don’t I live in New York City now, the home of hip coffeeshops, where your latte is served by some slender beauty from NYU and all the customers are reading David Sedaris?   Well, remember – I’m living in Flushing.   There is no Starbucks by my home.  There is a Dominican diner and a bagel shop, both terrific, but these are tiny Mom-and-Pop operations that do not want me taking up their space while I read blogs for an hour  — at least not for the price of a cup of coffee.  At McDonald’s, I can buy a cup of coffee and then write on my laptop until the battery runs out.

Sidenote:  I probably could write a haf-decent decent blog and never walk more than half a block from my apartment building.   On Monday and Wednesday I can write about the Pathmark supermarket downstairs where cars smash into things like in a senior citizen NASCAR race.  On Tuesday and Thursday, I can write about the crappy McDonald’s across the street.  On Friday, I can write about my mother.  And on the weekend, I can let my Penis guest post or I can write about blogging or kiss the ass of some popular blogger.  For some odd reason, I think this would be a more successful formula than the one I have now.

OK, back to McDonald’s.  Last week, there was a bit of drama over my ordering the Egg McMuffin without the meat.   Usually, I don’t order breakfast at McDonald’s.  I buy a cup of coffee and do some writing.  But despite my eating my Cheerios on that day, I found myself hungry.  I decided to order an Egg McMuffin.  I am not a fan of those greasy sausage patties, so I asked for a sandwich without the meat.  They charged me the same price.

“Shouldn’t the sandwich be cheaper because I’m not getting the meat?” I asked.

“No, said the bored cashier with that ‘I don’t give a shit attitude’.  “It is the same price.”

This bugged the hell out of me.  Clearly the meat portion is the most expensive part of the sandwich.  Shouldn’t they at least offer me a tomato as a replacement?

I mentioned this experience on Twitter later in the day, thinking I was the first person to ever notice this phenomenon.   I was not.  Vegetarians said this happens all the time.  They always pay the same price as the regular sandwich.

I am a nice, gentle soul.  Normally.  But when I see the “little man” wronged, especially when it is done by a mighty corporation, I MUST take action.  Consider me the Obama of the Blogosphere.  The next day, I strapped on my new belt that I bought at Rite-Aid for five bucks (as I was walking the day earlier, my belt buckle broke, and my pants starting slipping down, so I snuck into the drug store, was surprised that they sold belts, and got myself a nice bargain that looks pretty good), and swaggered down to McDonald’s.  I ordered an Egg McMuffin without meat, was charged the regular price — but before I handed over a penny, I demanded to see the manager.  A seventeen year with a Kanye West cap approached. 

“The manager is out.  I am the ASSISTANT manager.” he said.

I explained my problem.  He said that my cause was hopeless, because this was corporate policy. 

Some people say you can’t fight City Hall.  Maybe they are right.  Oh, by the way, I am still waiting for that phone call about my free flight from Dockers/JCPenney.

Yeah, let’s see how much Obama really “changes things” in Washington.  Hah!

Anyway —

I am in McDonald’s RIGHT NOW.  I usually write while I am here, but today I am mostly reading some blogs ($2.95 for two hours of wi-fi at McDonald’s).

I am also in an introspective mood.  I am thinking about my identity — both online and off.  Who am I?  What am I doing with my life?  Can my life be as “rich, bold, and robust” as they say about the coffee on the McDonald’s cofffee cup? 

Recently, I changed my Facebook network to “New York” from “Los Angeles” and ten people wondered if I had permanently moved.  It means nothing really.  I just did it, in the hope that some blogger that lives in New York might notice and invite me to a wild party with loose women while I am in town.

I am slow to change.  It wasn’t easy changing my network on Facebook.  I still don’t know what I want with Sophia.  Or where to live.  Or which new shows to watch in the new TV season.  If you look on my sidebar, you’ll see that I added some new widgets as an experiment.  This template is so old (2005), that I have to hand code half the gizmos.  I “designed” my header on a rainy afternoon way back March of 2005.  What does it mean?  Who is that kid?  I have no idea who that is, but it has been my “icon” since I began this blog.  Is this how I really want to be “branded?”

Last week, Maggie Dammit got her blog re-designed by the talented Sam of Temporarily Me.   Last night, I must have chatted online for a half an hour with new friend Jennifer from Thursday Drive about how jealous I was of this header because it captured this blogger’s identity so successfully.   My semiotic “blog header” analysis was worthy of Roland Barthes.  Look how much information we we get from this photo.  There is a picture of Maggie.  She is cute and likeable.  She has a quirky expression on her face, so we know that she is approachable, like Meg Ryan.  No on would ever say this person is a “bitch” or she would “stab you in the back.”   Look at all those books she has!   She is not a dummy.  But she is NOT a lonely, bookish hermit.  She is using a MAC!   And she is confident.  She has her arms up, like those women in those Sure deodorant commercials.  She is a hot, but approachable, literary, but trendy, confident, but caring.  Hell, I don’t just want to read her blog.   I want to marry this woman!   Now that is good branding.   She clearly knows who she is. 

Do you know who I am?  I doubt it.  Do I know who I am?

Let me go back to talking about McDonald’s.  Every morning, on schedule, a tiny old Chinese woman enters the store, carrying a plastic supermarket shopping bag.  She comes to every table:

“DVDs?  DVDs?  Good DVDS!”

Her business is pushing bootleg DVDs.  I have never seen a customer buy anything from her, or even look at what she has to offer.  The McDonald’s staff seem to have a “deal” with her.  She is allowed to sell her wares, but only if she gives each table one pass, and then she quickly leaves.

She just made her rounds a few moments ago, just as I was writing this.  She always comes to me first, because she see my laptop, so she figures that I am in the market for bootleg DVDs.

I always say, “Thank you.  No.”

Something changed in me today.  Maybe it was curiosity.  Maybe it was introspective mood, my thinking about my identity.  Maybe I just felt like doing things differently.  I have been changing lately.  Didn’t I almost have email sex with a stranger?  Didn’t I act assertively when I confronted the McDonald’s assistant manager about the unfairness of the no-meat Egg mcMuffin?

“OK, let me see what you have.” I told the Chinese lady.

She immediately sat across from me, grasping her plastic bag, ready for her sell.

“I know you like this –”

She reached into her bag and pulled out a group of DVDs wrapped in two large rubber bands.  They were all macho-type B-movies that I had never heard of, with titles like “The Killing Machine” and “Fists of Blood.” 

“You LIKE these!”  she insisted.

She was wrong.  I thought about Maggie’s header.  It was so clear “who she was.”  I found it amusing that this DVD saleswoman was completely off track.  Who does she see?  She sees “MAN.”  Her first assumption is that I want to watch this mindless violent shit. 

“No, no…” I told the DVD lady.

“Ah, I KNOW what you like,” she said, pulling out another collection of DVDs wrapped in rubber bands.  She was persistent.

This collection of DVDs came closer to my identity.  They were DVDs of Hollywood movies out in theaters RIGHT NOW.  I assumed that these are created by someone shooting a video in the theater as the movie was playing.  You can find stuff like this on chinese YouTube. 

“How much?”  I asked.

“Four dollars.” she said.

I was tempted for a second, just to buy something, but her collection consisted mostly of the most lame-brained comedy and action films out today.  These were movies I wouldn’t even watch for free on Chinese YouTube.  While I might see “Pineapple Express” because it is the only thing playing on a Saurday night, do I really need an illegal DVD of the movie?   Don’t they ever make any bootleg videos of good films or art films, or at least Woody Allen films?  Still, her choice of mainstream Hollywood movies came a lot closer to my true identity.

“I’m sorry,” I told my new friend.  I was wondering if I should buy her a cup of coffee while we sat together.

But she certainly wasn’t leaving… just yet.

“Ah, so this is WHAT YOU LIKE…”

She pulled out a final collection of DVD’s from her bag, wrapped, as usual, in rubber bands.  This was her “special” collection.  She smiled knowingly because she was confident that she had finally figured me out —

The DVD all had buxom, naked women on the covers, some blond and some Asian.  The films had titles such as “In and Out” and “My Favorite Geisha.”

“These you REALLY REALLY LIKE… huh?!”

The saleswoman was clever.  She had come very close to figuring out “who I was.”  But a person’s identity is a complex thing.  It cannot be isolated into just one characteristic.  Like many men, I am interested in naked women who want to be my geisha girl.  But that is not WHO I am.  She did not understand me at all.   If I don’t truly understand me, how can she understand me?  She was so confident in her sales ability, that she could manipulate my inner desires to sell me something, that she completely overlooked a even MORE important aspect of my identity —

— I am way too cheap to spend four bucks buying a porno DVD in McDonald’s!

I am finding out who I am a little more each day.

Name Changes: I Now Live In Blogosphere Estates

1)  My Favorite Cereal


I was walking down "aisle 10" in Ralph’s Supermarket today to buy my usual healthy, but cardboard-tasting "high-fiber" cereal, when I started reminiscing about the sugar-high cereals of my youth:  Lucky Charms, Trix, Frosted Flakes, and my all time favorite — Sugar Pops — or Sugar Corn Pops, depending on what year you started eating them.  I used to love those bright yellow crunchy bits of sugar that somehow were related to "wholesome corn" and kept their crunch quite well, unlike the wimpy and soggy Rice Krispies.   

My current supermarket had many cereals on sale, almost too many, and there was a whole section devoted just to Kellogg’s products.  But when I saw the familiar yellow box, I was quite surprised to learn that Sugar Pops were not called Sugar Pops anymore.  No.  Now, they are just called Pops.  The word "Pops" was written in some pseudo-graffiti font and there was some sort of promotion going on for snowboarding.  This was obviously a Sugar Pops for a new generation.   But are parents so stupid to think that Pops are any healthier than the Sugar Pops they used to eat, just because Kellogg’s dropped the "Sugar" from the name?

Maybe Sugar Pops are more successful nowadays as just Pops.  Changing names can be a powerful illusion, like changing Kentucky Fried Chicken to the heart-healthy KFC.

2)  Real Estate


When I was growing up in Flushing, there was a housing project across the street.  The residents were mostly those on welfare and other federal assistance programs.   While it was a noble idea in principle, it was a nightmare for the neighborhood.   The crime rate zoomed, and women were frequently attacked walking the streets.  After a few years, there was so much community uproar about "the projects," that they were closed down.  A few months later, they were taken over by a private company, quickly painted over, and renamed "Georgetown Mews."   My friends and I always joked about this, as if this ultra-pretentious name somehow transformed this ugly complex into something sophisticated.

With real estate so hot, I see this type of "naming" used all the time.   For instance, on the way to Palm Springs recently, I noticed what used to be an empty lot in a god-forsaken desert area between LA and Palm Springs.  Now, it has been transformed into "Rawhide Ranch," as if any actual horse wouldn’t immediately drop dead in the area’s 120 degree heat. 

New York and San Francisco have always been very successful in turning a rundown part of the city into some hip enclave.  Step one:  promote the area with some cool name like Tribeca, Soho, DUMBO, etc.  Los Angeles is now getting into the game by "trying to trick hipsters into leasing Skid Row lofts: the Old Bank District."

Why not?  It works.

3)  Concentration Camps


Changing your name is frequently a way of hiding your past.  When a company does something illegal, they often come back with a changed name — and a fresh start.  Sometimes a name is associated with a disaster. That’s why after ValuJet crashed in the Florida Everglades, they changed their name to AirTran.  It’s not surprising that Poland even wants to to rename Auschwitz.

"Poland is trying to change the name of Auschwitz concentration camp to emphasize that Nazi Germans, not Poles, were responsible for the most murderous center of the Holocaust.

The government has asked the United Nations to change the name of its World Heritage site from "Auschwitz Concentration Camp" to "the Former Nazi German Concentration Camp of Auschwitz.""

Who’s going to say that mouthful?  I think most people remember that the Nazis were the bad guys.   Name changing is a powerful instrument.  What do you think Poland is trying to forget about it’s own past?

I understand that living in Auschwitz might be a drag.  But, hey, why not just build a Six Flags there so Auschwitz can change its reputation from the "place with a death camp" to a "place for fun?"

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