WE KNOW WHAT THE KIDS LIKE
The ongoing T-mobile campaign — full of energetic jumpy millennials, pink type, still photos and grungy rock & roll— feels very condescending. It's like old people trying very hard to relate. "This is what young people like. More flashing! They like hats! More hep rock beats!" It's so sweaty, it's dripping.
COMPLETELY INOFFENSIVE... TO THE EXTREME!
Pity the ad agency assigned to the “Miracle Whip” account. (mcgarrybowden NY, in case you MUST KNOW.) How do you distinguish a bland sandwich spread from the other bland sandwich spreads? I mean, I always assumed Miracle Whip WAS mayonnaise. (Turns out it’s got a little more corn sugar in it. Oh.)
Aaaaand… that’s as much thought as I’ve EVER given Miracle Whip.
Until now. Turns out MW is MAVERICK, for TRENDSETTERS, for CONTROVERSIAL RABBLE-ROUSERS. Miracle Whip isn’t for EVERYONE. Many people DESPISE it. It breaks up families. The ones who like it—well, we’re a part of your secret club.
The problem of brand differentiation is a tough one in many markets… how do you distinguish a faceless bank from another faceless bank? One tasteless, pisswater light beer from another? (“I know! The label turns blue when it gets cold!”) This campaign to position Miracle Whip as the bold condiment for young thrill-seekers gets an A for effort, but ultimately it feels inauthentic. It’s sweaty… it tries too hard. It’s like Poochie the Dog, the character network executives added to “Itchy & Scratchy” for an episode of “The Simpsons,” when they wanted to push the cartoon “…to the extreme!”
What if they had embraced that inauthenticity? What if they had let the target market peek through the cracks? If the attitude was, “We know this positioning is bullshit, but here’s how The Man would try to sell it to you, kids,” then I could really get behind this effort, and creatively it would kick it a quantum level up. As it is, it bugs the white, creamy condiments out of me.
LOVE YOU, DELTALINA
A recent flight got me thinking about this fantastic instructional video for Delta Airlines. It's a small masterpiece for what it is... carefully lit, nicely composed, with a great sexy performance by a real-life flight attendant (since nicknamed "Deltalina"). Isn't it always better to see something well done in an unexpected place?
MORE WORLD CUP BITCHIN'
Ah, more World Cup action! I’m a sports fan, and I’m pretty engrossed by this tournament… but fairly underwhelmed by the sport’s idiosyncrasies. I’m not the first to point out why the game is deeply flawed from an American perspective, but damned if it doesn’t produce some spectacularly exciting moments. (That US goal against Algeria in the 91st minute was just thrilling.)
But I will maintain that the excitement stems more from the stakes represented than the sport itself. If there were a worldwide checkers championship where national pride were at stake, then people all over the world would gather in their pubs and salivate over every jump, every king, every capture.
But what’s wrong with this as a sport is perfectly illustrated by the Ghana game on Saturday. Ghana, ahead by 2-1 in the last 15 minutes of overtime, went on an infuriating stalling run. Not just by playing keep-away, which seems perfectly within the spirit of the game, but also by time-wasting flopping, injury-feigning, and languid substitutions. Because FIFA, perversely, NEVER STOPS THE DAMN CLOCK, it is in the leading team’s interest to go through all manner of extra-field nonsense to burn the clock… including a Ghana player going down spectacularly, laying motionless to bring out the stretcher crew, getting hauled off the field, then hopping up, ready to go back in. Not to mention the Oscar-worthy faking & grimacing as, barely touched, a player goes down trying to draw the foul.
(In American football, sure, there is clock-burning, but it is done ON THE FIELD, and WITHIN THE RULES. And there are strategies for counteracting a team’s stalling.)
Then there is the referee’s arbitrary addition of time to the clock (“Hmm… let’s tack on an extra, oh, three minutes to the end”). So much is put in the ref’s hands; so much is open to abuse.
Soccer could be a fantastic sport, but is ultimately too frustrating for an American fan. Every four years, pundits wonder if this is finally the time when the US will embrace it as a big-time sport. Based on US v. Ghana, let the rest of the world have it. Seeya in four years.
(The US team does have the best athlete name: "Hercules Gomez." Just fantastic.)
COMIC BOOK HERESY
I’m a comic book geek from way back, and although it goes against the “conventional wisdom” of geek culture, I’ve gotta say it:
I think Jack Kirby SUCKED.
Jack Kirby created (or co-created with Stan Lee) The Hulk, Fantastic Four, the “modern” incarnation of Captain America, the Silver Surfer, the X-Men… long-running characters with lasting, dramatic impacts on American culture. No one can take those accomplishments away from him, and I’m a big fan of what those characters became. He is one of the legends in the industry. But I look at the actual work that Kirby created and I go… eew.
Aficionados praise Kirby’s artwork for its boldness and imagination. To me, his characters look awkward, misshapen, amateurish… full of anatomically-puzzling lumps, misguided poses, poor foreshortening. Characters are expressionless, and all tend to look alike. And on the occasions when Kirby wrote dialogue, it was unbelievably verbose, juvenile and corny. (When he took over the art and writing of my favorite, “Captain America,” way back in 1982, I quit in frustration. Ick.) You can’t argue that the concepts he created or helped to create have lasting power. But to an extent, he was simply in the right place at the right time, and was a product of his Silver Age times. He blazed a trail, but benefitted from a shallow talent pool among his superhero-drawing peers. (Curt Swan? Blurgh. Steve Ditko? Better, but still Blurgh. In my opinion, the earliest “modern” artist whose work still stands up is Neal Adams.)
True, styles change: if Kirby were trying to get work in today’s marketplace (or even the marketplace of 30 years ago), he would have been shown the door. I just can’t share the enthusiasm or adulation of clunky Jack Kirby.
Now Kirby’s estate is suing Marvel to try to win some of the copyrights back for the work he did, and testing whether the characters he created were covered under work-for-hire provisions. (Superman’s creators’ heirs challenged DC in a similar suit not long ago, and won a pile of money.) Personally, I don’t like the idea of heirs suing to win rights that the artist himself didn’t pursue vigorously when he was alive… but either way the case goes, this will be in the news, and we will have to listen to old fanboys gush about Jack Kirby a whole lot more.
WORST. RADIO. AD. EVER
I listen to a lot of talk radio for the mental stimulation it provides... usually by making me furious. (Constantly irritate an oyster, and you get a pearl. Right?) Anyway, it's beside the point of this post. I have lately become OBSESSED with this unusually infuriating radio ad for Chase Banking that seems to play every hour on the hour on certain stations. Because it provokes me to the point of insanity, it's time to deconstruct it. Please play the ad and follow along... and imagine the fury that drove me to this level of detail. (Apologies for the subpar quality... captured on an iPhone.)
The theme music seems to announce that this is just another warm, wacky episode in "Chase Banking Stories," everybody's new favorite show.
Hi, welcome to Chase.
Hi! Yeah, I've seen your branches poppin' up all over town.
These two chuckleheads' voices are virtually indistinguishable... a failure in casting. Both seem early-30s young, very white, very laid-back. And you can hear the director's voice in the booth: "Yeah, just keep this loose... two guys, talkin', shootin' the shit... really natural."
Yeah, we're new to California.
Well, I run my own business. And you know, lately, I've been getting the same-old, same-old from my bank... (exasperated scoff) I could use a change.
"Same-old, same-old." Nice and vague. It's REALLY hard for banks to distinguish their services, so let's keep this airy. This actor’s scoffing expression makes its first appearance. He really knows his scoffs. A scoff expert.
Well (chuckle), you're in the right place. Chase has been helping business owners for over two centuries.
And this actor knows his *chuckles*.
Wuh, wait... (disbelieving scoff) I thought you said you were new! "Wow, you are really trying to screw me here. I live in a constant state of surprise. Grass surprises me. Air surprises me. I can communicate all of this with another one of my scoffs."
No, we're new to CALIFORNIA. “You're a dumbass.” But we've been doing this long enough to know what business owners want in a bank.
"Let me reassure you that I am not trying to screw you."
So... how can you help ME?
Well, for starters, our free business checking has free online bill pay and free account alerts. And our business specialists are here to address your needs.
Wow, this is unbelievable... just like every other bank!
(greedy, disbelieving chuckle) GREAT.
"My pleasure is almost sexual." Variation on a scoff.
And your deposits are backed by FDIC insurance. So you know your money's safe. Just like every other bank! By the way... what business are you in?
Oh, ah, landscaping.
Director: "Nice read… very loose and natural."
So, um... (chuckle) you... came in to see if the grass was GREENER?
"I can barely get this line out, it's so funny."
Hah hah hah! (amused scoff) Yeah... stick to banking.
Apparently, this WAS funny to this douchebag. That's "A" material to him. And, he got to give us another variant on his breathy scoff.
Great chuckle! With one syllable, it communicates, "Oh, he nailed me. I am pwned, and he's my new bestie."
(guitar music and blah blah blah)
The guitar theme returns, promising a sequel, if not a whole new radio series. I can't wait for another episode of this shit!
Now, I've been in the ad business long enough to not necessarily blame the "creative" team for this ad... there could be a million political reasons a radio ad turned out this way. But I still have to wonder if everyone high-fived each other at the end of the session, then celebrated by hitting the bar, then accidentally committed a drunken indiscretion that will haunt them later. Or did they edit the spot sixteen times with ever-growing pains in their guts, before sending it off to the client to be (unbelievably, unbelievably) approved?
Whose reel did this wind up on?
Sorry. Don't mind me. I'm just obsessed. And now it's out of my system.
CALL IT WHAT YOU WANT... THIS ISN'T BEER
Sometimes, you come across slogans that work the opposite of what was intended.
Case in point: Bud Light’s current campaign, “The Difference Is Drinkability.” I suppose the goal of this slogan and tagline points the young drinker toward easy-drinking beer… beer that you can guzzle in massive doses without any issues like “taste” getting in your way. To me, this ad campaign confirms all my preconceptions about light beer: that it slides down your throat with nary a kick, so you barely notice it’s there. If you enjoy slightly fizzy water, this might be attractive to you. But I feel that for anyone who actually enjoys drinking in any way, this ad campaign is a massive turnoff. It’s a beer campaign geared toward people who don’t actually like beer. Bleah.
"If this is tea, please bring me some coffee. If this is coffee, please bring me some tea." —Abraham Lincoln
JAMES BOND: YOU CAN'T GO BACK
Growing up, I had always considered myself a huge James Bond fan. When I had kids, I looked forward to sharing Bond with them. But there's no going back: movie conventions and standards have just changed too much. The best Connery movie, "Goldfinger," is for me today, just hard to sit through... lots of dull talk, rather tame action, threadbare trappings (that Miami luxury hotel looks like a prison). Connery is too smirky; Roger Moore now looks like a cartoon; Pierce Brosnan, rarely mussed, looks as believable driving a tank in "Goldeneye" as Michael Dukakis did. Trying to show my kids these movies has gotten me puzzled looks and apathy. (Try watching the older films yourself to see if they hold up now.)
But Daniel Craig has wiped all the other Bonds away for me. These two Craig movies are revelations about the actor and the character of James Bond. They are not smirky, not cartoonish... Craig is physical, dangerous, believable. Some have complained that "Quantum" is missing some of the formula elements: gadgets, cars, cocktails, quips. Personally, I don't need to see Q ever again. This series NEEDED reinvention. I would never want to go back to the formula, when Craig's two films explode the Bond conventions to create movies superior to, for me, all of the other movies in the franchise. (Even despite the rather stupid "Quantum" plot. This secret organization has to meet by whispering at the opera? There's a desert hotel powered by explosives?)
This recent experience reevaluating James Bond has also caused me to reconsider the ‘70s Peter Sellers “Pink Panther” movies. These movies held a golden place in my mind as some of the funniest movies ever made, and, like James Bond, I wanted to show them to my kids. I put on “Return of The Pink Panther,” which I remember as being the best… and I wound up turning it off, embarrassed. The moments of hilarity stick out in your mind (as Cato and Clouseau bash each other in Clouseau’s apartment), but there are vast stretches where crickets chirp, interrupted by some excessive mugging and eye rolling by Herbert Lom.
It’s sad to me, and has kept me from other old classics from my youth, like “Planet of the Apes.” I guess I would just rather remember them how I remember them, because the awful reality is kinda sad to me.
WOW, YOU'RE A REBEL
Yeesh. This kind of grandstanding on a billboard just gives you the douche-chills. We don't really need to dissect why this billboard is so patently fake and annoying, do we? Corporate suits put this UP for an incredibly non-rebellious, playing-it-safe station. They definitely "touch the music," over and over, and for probably fifteen minutes every hour. Another reason radio is dying on the vine.
NO GODDAM RAZOR?
Another advertising pet peeve: why does nearly every young male in every ad have to be unshaven? It’s beyond a cliche by now... beer ads, phone ads, burger ads... any time several young male friends are together, several will be conspicuously unshaven. (Also: at least one will be wearing flannel, and if there are more than three, guaranteed one will be black.) I’m sure they focus-group the hell out of these ads and find that young men respond to these sloppy-looking idiots. Me, I just see the cliche. Again.