Good Job

Bad commercials take a lot of flack here–all, IMNSHO, completely justified. But let me take a step to the other side for a change and direct your attention to a commercial that actually works.

You’ve probably seen it–if you’ve been watching the MLB playoffs, I know you’ve seen it.

It’s the Amazon Prime commercial with the dog and the lion costume. If you’ve managed to miss it for the last year, you can see it here:

Actually, that’s the Japanese version, but don’t sweat it; the US version is the same except for the language of the Amazon App seen briefly.

Whoever came up with the concept for this absolutely nailed it. It’s got a cute dog, a cute baby, and a sappy song. How could it miss?

Actually, it could easily have missed. But the ad doesn’t insult any of the actors–nobody’s egregiously stupid–or the audience. And it doesn’t try to do too much. If it had tried to push both the main point (same day delivery) and stress the incredible variety of things Amazon sells, it would have turned into a hyperjettic, crowded mess. Instead, it makes the point almost casually: “A lion costume for a dog? If they’ve got that, they must have the weird thing I want, right?”

The contrast is all the greater when you see the ad on TV, surrounded by ads for the Amazon Echo. Including the man who’s too stupid to put the lid on the blender and the woman who interrupts her busy day to gaze longingly at her motorcycle. Even the ad with the cat misfires: if your cat was staring into your fish tank, would your first reaction be to buy cat food? Well, maybe it would, but mine would be to put the cat on the floor, probably in a different room, before it tried to climb into the tank.

Interestingly, the ad started as a long-form piece, one minute and fifteen seconds, which you can see here. And the extra forty-five seconds absolutely ruin it. It loses focus and buries the message under a pair of not-at-all funny jokes. Cutting down to a thirty second spot saved it. More proof, as if we need it, that writing good fiction often requires you to cut the bits you love–William Faulkner called it killing your darlings.

Kudos to the Amazon Prime ad writer for that one perfect moment buried in all the dreck.

SAST 06

I need to close out a few open issues from recent blog posts, so it’s time for a Short Attention Span Theater.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about a poor QA/good customer service issue I had with the Project Fi Travel Trolley.

I’m pleased to report that Swyft customer support came through with the promised travel socks. And they’re just as silly as we had hoped.

Let’s be clear: these aren’t the full height compression socks designed to prevent Deep Vein Thrombosis. These are ankle socks. But they have little rubberized bumps on the underside to prevent slippage when you take your shoes off to go through the TSA’s scanners. If you follow the often-quoted advice to take off your shoes on the plane and walk up and down the aisle a couple of times during the flight, they should be fine for that. They even seem rugged enough to wear to bed so you can stagger into the bathroom in the middle of the night without having to hunt for slippers.

Most importantly, though, they’re black, they’re fuzzy–kind of snuggly, in fact–and they’ve got a Project Fi logo on the side. Amusing. And I intend to wear them next time I fly.

And I will test the Travel Trolley again.

Moving on.

Last Thursday, I mused a little about the Mariners’ attempt to get above .500 for the first time this year.

Not only did they win Thursday night behind rookie Andrew Moore, but they also won Friday behind veteran Felix Hernandez.

Friday, they also sent Moore back to the minors. Weird game, baseball.

No, it wasn’t because they were displeased with his performance. Whoever made up the schedule decided the Ms needed two days off this week. Never mind that the All-Star Break is less than two weeks away and will bring almost everyone in the league a four-day holiday.

But with both Monday and Thursday off, the Ms didn’t really need five starting pitchers, so Moore went down to AAA. Chances are he’ll be back with the Mariners sooner rather than later.

But I digress. After that victory Friday the Ms were two games over .500. Celebrations ensued.

Saturday and Sunday, they lost to Houston, the team with the best record in baseball. Tuesday and Wednesday, they lost to Philadelphia, the team with the worst record in baseball.

Just like that, they’re back in familiar territory, two games short of respectability.

But that’s the Mariners for you. Ever since Houston came over from the National League, the Mariners have had trouble beating them. And losses breed.

Even with the losses, though, the Mariners are still only three games out of the Wild Card. Of course, the are eight other teams at three games out or less, so it’s a bit of an uphill climb.

Based on their performance so far this season, I expect the Mariners to bounce around .500 for the next few weeks, until they go to Houston July 17. That’ll put them in a short decline. They’ll recover and get back to .500 or a bit more in August, make a serious run at the Wild Card–and then go into a nose dive when the Astros come to Seattle September 4.

Because Mariners.

Moving on.

Apple is promoting the new iPad Pro it introduced earlier this month. The commercials are in heavy rotation during baseball games.

That’s expected. What isn’t is how stereotyped the ads are. The emo girl who hates everything. The power addict who literally explodes with pleasure. The ghost of a dead laptop.

Really, Apple? If you can’t give us a revolutionary computer–and let’s face it, the iPad Pro may be a heck of a good computer, but it’s neither years ahead of the competition nor unique–can’t you at least give us a revolutionary ad or two? One that doesn’t rely on the same easy compartmentalization we’ve seen in the media for far too long?

More TV Stupidity

Usually when I complain about TV commercials, it’s because they’re assuming the viewer is stupid–or even portraying their target audience as stupid. Today, however, I’d like to point our a couple of commercials that are actively encouraging people to behave stupidly.

Let’s begin with that cornerstone of American dessert, Reddi Wip. (No, that’s not a typo. There really isn’t an “h” in the name.)

For those of you who didn’t watch the video, Mom packs a canister of Everyone’s Favorite Whipped Cream in young Charlie’s lunch. He, of course, is delighted. He skips the nutritious part of his lunch, takes one bite of his brownie, and then runs through the school, spraying whipped cream on randomly-selected teachers’ and students’ food.

Seems harmless enough, doesn’t it? If Charlie can brighten a few peoples’ day with a nitrous oxide-propelled mixture of cream, sugar, corn syrup, and maltodextrin, why shouldn’t he?

Well, according to USLegal.com, “enticement” is “to wrongfully solicit, persuade, procure, allure, attract, coax, or seduce, or to lure, induce, attempt, incite, or persuade a person to do a thing.”

Wondering why I’m talking about enticement? In case it had escaped your notice, we live in a society where “Cover Your Ass” is an increasingly-popular way to guide your actions.

Consider that in 2014, a student in California was reportedly given detention for sharing his lunch with a fellow student.

Last year, nine students in South Carolina were apparently suspended for violating the school’s drug policy. Their mixture of sugar and Kool-Aid looked too much like cocaine for the school’s administration.

Most states restrict the distribution of nitrous oxide to minors to prevent its use as a euphoric drug.

Need I say more about Reddi Wip’s responsibilities here?

But let us remember that none of this is poor Charlie’s fault. He’s just the product of his culture. Clearly, he attends the school shown in this commercial for Aleve.

Here a teacher’s arthritis flares up, much to the horror of her young charges, and even the class hamster. Another teacher comes to her rescue, handing her a bottle of Aleve. In the classroom, in front of the students. All is well, and teacher and students run merrily through their day, untroubled by arthritis or any consideration of school drug policies that prohibit sharing of medications, even in life-saving situations.

I’ll skip the citations of the cases where students were suspended for bringing aspirin to school–not taking it, just having it in their possession–as most of those seem to date to the nineties. Those restrictions are still on the books, of course, but if your kid has already been suspended for having candy, that bottle of Aleve in her backpack is largely irrelevant.

So, thanks to Aleve and Reddi Wip for setting such a bad example for America’s children and enticing them into lives of crime.

Well, That Was Super

So another Super Bowl has passed into history. In this case, more impressively than most. Greatest comeback in the game’s history (or, if you’re a fan of the Falcons, the biggest collapse in the history of the “Big Game”).

But I’ll leave dissection of the actual game to the actual fans of the sport or the teams. I’d like to see someone who knows the NFL culture address the proverbial elephant: Since the Patriots have made such a big deal about drawing motivation from the “excessive” punishment Tom Brady received for his role in the Deflategate scandal, are we going to see the other teams demanding to be punished to restore competitive balance to the game?

While the experts are pondering that, here are a few other semi-random thoughts about the spectacle.

Points to Coke for their pre-game re-run of the multilingual “America the Beautiful” commercial from the 2014 Super Bowl. But I had the same sense of a false note this year as I did then at the decision to switch back to English for the “God shed his grace on thee” line. Fear of a backlash from the rabidly outspoken Christian fringe at the merest hint of the suggestion that non-English speakers might have valid religious beliefs?

Why am I not surprised that Fox hyped the heck out of their coverage of the Daytona 500? After the fifth or sixth commercial, their attempts to convince viewers outside of the nation’s heartland, where NASCAR reigns, that an automobile race is even more important to Life, Liberty, and the Purfuit of Happineff than the football game they were nominally watching got more than a trifle pitiful.

And then there were the commercials for APB. Apparently the world needed a weekly TV show glorifying the militarization of the police and celebrating the ability of the ultra-rich to literally purchase public servants. Fox certainly thinks so.

Was I the only person bothered by the fact that right after the tribute to football players from historically black schools, we got a commercial for Mexican avocados in which it’s the black conspirator who doesn’t understand the concept of secrecy?

And, speaking of being bothered, Kia, what the heck were you thinking with that Melissa McCarthy ad? If we’re to believe you, environmentalism is dangerous to life and limb. And if we shouldn’t risk ourselves to save whales, trees, and polar ice caps, why should we bother spending the money on your new hybrid? How about giving us some idea of what makes the Niro better than every other low-emission vehicle out there?

Mixed messages from Anheuser-Busch as well. Big props for not pulling their pro-immigration Budweiser ad, which they had to know was going to trigger calls for a boycott even before the events of last week. But then they literally brought back the ghost of Spuds MacKenzie. Couldn’t they have let the poor, alcoholic pooch rest in peace? There’s got to be a better way to sell light beer than with a “Christmas Carol” rip-off.

And then there’s Lady Gaga.

Kudos for carrying the entire halftime show herself. First time we’ve had a single act do the show without supporting acts since The Who in 2010.

For that matter, I believe she’s the only female performer to go it alone in the history of the Super Bowl. I only have data going back to 2000 handy, but the solo performers since then have been Paul McCartney, Prince, Tom Petty, and Bruce Springsteen. Add the bands that didn’t need supporting acts, and you get the all-male U2, Rolling Stones, and The Who.

It’s about time the Super Bowl Halftime Show got an anything you can do moment.

But more importantly, she gets big props for invoking “This Land Is Your Land” on Immigration Weekend and bigger ones for ramming “Born This Way” down Mike Pence’s throat–live on Fox!

So I’m willing to ignore the thousands of acres destroyed in mining all the rhinestones that went into her costumes–land that is, of course, the native habitat of the innocent nauga.

But maybe I’m being hasty. There’s something to be said for her final outfit (for those of you who missed it, she finished the show wearing much-Bedazzled shoulder pads and sparkly shorts). It could be a great thing for the NFL if it caught on. No, not with the cheerleaders. With the players.

Reduce the amount of armor they wear, and the players might be a little more cautious about hurling themselves headlong at each other and the ground. That ought to cut down on injuries just a bit.

And–be honest now–who wouldn’t want to see Tom Brady dropping back to pass in that uniform?

Corporate Malfeasance

Apparently this is the time of year when I get pissed off about advertising. Last week, it was* Organic Valley’s casual disregard for science, logic, and their customers’ intelligence.

* Still is, actually

Then there’s this piece of trash produced by Comcast:
Comcast camping ad (Click to enlarge for readability.)

I sat on this for a couple of weeks to give my ire a chance to subside. It hasn’t, so I’m going to vent a bit.

Comcast, with casual disregard for tradition, has co-opted a piece of childhood. Yeah, OK, I know they’re hardly unique in that, but I find this a particularly egregious example. Damn it, the backyard campout isn’t about watching movies. A computer has no place in a kid’s tent. The backyard campout is for looking at the stars, eating junk food, and telling time-honored scary stories. Oh, and hoping that those noises outside the tent are just the neighborhood raccoon, rather than the neighborhood psycho with hooks for hands*.

* Mind you, the raccoon’s claws are likely sharper than the psycho’s hooks, but the raccoon is much cuter. That excuses a lot of questionable behavior, right?

Look, I’m not questioning Comcast’s right to advertise the wonderful advantages of Wi-Fi in the backyard. I’m sure there are some, even if I can’t think of any off the top of my head. If they want to promote watching movies in the yard, how about connecting that laptop to a TV and showing the whole family gathered around it on the deck (every family has a deck in the backyard, don’t they?) Or show the kids using a tablet to look up information about a frog they’ve found in the yard. Obviously, I’m not going to make it in the ad industry, but the point stands: there are ways to show off their service without crushing a hallowed tradition under a steamroller.

But wait: the ad gets worse. Did you notice the text at the bottom? “…with a plan to create more than eight million hotspots across the nation.” That plan is to use their customers’ routers as hotspots. As Ars reported earlier this year, when Comcast sends customers new modems with built-in Wi-Fi routers, they’re sending them pre-configured with a public hotspot. Yes, customers can turn it off, but Comcast doesn’t go out of their way to advertise the feature or make it easy to turn off.

They do charge customers seven dollars a month to rent the modem/routers, though. That’s a pretty good deal for Comcast, getting their customers to subsidize expansion of Comcast’s hotspot network.

Comcast is currently pushing the new modem/routers on customers via paper mail and robocalls warning them that their “devices need to be upgraded in order to fully maximize our service offerings”. Isn’t that a nicely worded phrase? It suggests that the change is of direct benefit to the customer, when it’s actually all about a direct benefit to Comcast.

As the final touch, the letters warn customers who are using Comcast’s voice telephony that–unlike their current modem–the new modem/router will not include a backup battery. Unless the customer purchases a battery, they’ll lose phone service if the house’s power goes out. Read that again: the customer must buy a battery from Comcast for a device that they rent from Comcast in order to maintain the same level of service they have now.

I’m starting to froth at the mouth, so I’ll wrap up before someone calls Animal Control to report a rabies-infected koi in the neighborhood. No doubt they’ll think I caught it from the raccoons that invaded my backyard campout. You know the one: the only one in the whole community that didn’t show movies on a laptop.

WQTS 04

“The Fault In Our Stars” is a Spiderman movie? Who knew?
spi

Apparently, our local supermarket knew. Maybe they were fooled by the upside-down character on the cover?

Seriously gang, if you’re too cheap to buy a new cardboard display rack, at least take thirty seconds and cover the text with duct tape. There’s some in Aisle 5.


OK, that was clearly a mistake. A preventable mistake, certainly, but most likely not something done with malice in mind.

On the other hand, we’ve got the latest piece of mind-warping stupidity from Organic Valley.

I’ve complained about OV before, but this radio spot sinks to new depths in its casual disregard for logical thought and scientific accuracy. Of course, as we know, OV has no interest in science. Start doing science and you might come into contact with chemicals!

You don’t have to take my word for the accuracy of my transcription. Organic Valley’s advertising agency, Solve, has kindly archived several of their radio and TV ads. By all means, go take a listen to “Bats and Frogs”.

Back? Good. Let’s break this down. According to Organic Valley and Solve, OV’s farmers listen for bats and frogs because “where there are bats and frogs, there are insects.” Yeah, OK. Not all bats and frogs are insectivores, but enough of them are that I’ll give OV a pass on that claim.

“Where there are insects, there’s healthy soil free of toxic pesticides.” Well, no. Haven’t they ever heard of mosquitoes? Bats and frogs love ’em, but their presence is more likely a sign of stagnant pools of water than healthy soil. Many insects don’t much care about the presence of “toxic pesticides”* in the soil either. Unless they’re one of the few species that breeds underground, pesticides in the soil have little effect on them.

* A redundancy if I ever heard one. What’s the point of a non-lethal pesticide? (OK, yes, there are some that interfere with the pests’ breeding cycle. They’re in the minority–and OV doesn’t like them either.)

“Where there’s healthy soil, there are acres of organic pasture grasses.” Or acres of forest. Or a tiny lawn behind a tract house. The quality and health of the soil says very little about the use people are making of the land.

“Where there are acres of lush pasture grass, there are happy, healthy Organic Valley cows that spend their days eating that grass…” Not stated, but strongly implied: OV cows eat only pasture grass and only OV cows eat pasture grass. The first is untrue according to OV’s website (per my previous rant, the website acknowledges that a significant portion of nutrition comes from stored dried forages, including corn). The second is self-evidently ridiculous: non-organic dairies may or may not give their cows as much pasture time as OV, but most give them some. How useful that pasture time is, is another question, given that even OV admits that their cows need supplemental nutrition.

“and producing delicious Organic Valley milk as part of a thriving ecosystem.” “Delicious” is subjective, of course. I doubt whether OV can point to any legitimate double-blind tests that show their milk to be any more delicious than any other dairy’s, but I’ll let that pass. “A thriving ecosystem.” Hmm. Last I checked, a thriving ecosystem was, by definition, a closed system. Nothing needs to be brought in from outside to stave off collapse. Do the cows produce enough natural fertilizer to keep those pastures lush? Do those bats and frogs have sufficient breeding grounds? I tend to doubt the claim of a thriving ecosystem, but I can’t actually disprove it. OK, I’ll give OV a pass on this bit.

“Just don’t forget to thank the bats and frogs.” OK. Uh… just what am I thanking them for? Are you seriously suggesting that the bats and frogs are responsible for the “delicious milk”? They’re not producing the insects and the insects aren’t producing the soil. OK, yes, the soil may be producing the grass, but the cows aren’t a product of the soil, the insects, the frogs, or the bats. Or is OV hinting that they’re not selling cow milk, but actually bat milk? Probably not. We can be sure it’s not frog milk, since frogs aren’t mammals and don’t produce milk.

Look, I’m sure Organic Valley milk is no worse than any other milk you can buy, and it’s probably tastier and more nutritious than some, but this kind of fuzzy thinking presented as advertising is insulting to the intelligence of the listener. It’s exactly the kind of wishful thinking that suggests that vegan diets can halt climate change.

On the Air

Baseball has had an uneasy relationship with the media since the early days of radio. Game broadcasts started on an irregular basis in the early 1920s. By the 1930s, games regularly appeared on the air, but teams banned broadcasts of away games. The New York teams blocked all broadcasts until the late 1930s, fearing that radio would reduce attendance at games.

Accommodation with television followed a similar pattern of hesitant acceptance. Sources place the first TV broadcast of a major league baseball game as early as 1939, yet regular national coverage didn’t begin until 1953. Even then, concerns about negative effects on attendance led MLB to block broadcasts within 50 miles of any ballpark.

Blackouts have been a recurring theme. As broadcasters offered increasingly larger payouts, the emphasis shifted from protecting in-stadium attendance to protecting broadcast exclusivity. Today, most games are carried on regional sports networks, whose areas of coverage are contractually defined to the inch. Since satellite and, in some cases, cable carry multiple regional networks, MLB requires the carriers to black out out-of-market games to protect the local market’s exclusive rights.

As an example, suppose a satellite subscriber in Boston has purchased a plan that includes all of the sports networks. The New England Sports Network has exclusive rights to the Boston Red Sox. That means that any other network will be blacked out when the Red Sox are playing. Our hypothetical fan, who purchased the all-networks plan so he could follow, say, the LA Dodgers will have to watch the Dodgers/Red Sox games on NESW, whether the game is in Boston or LA. If NESW isn’t carrying the game, the fan won’t be able to watch it at all, because the LA network will still be blacked out to protect NESW’s Red Sox monopoly.

MLB has been widely lauded for quickly catching on to the possibilities of the Internet as a forum for broadcasts. They’ve also been widely panned for extending their blackout policies to the Internet. The MLB.TV package allows fans to view broadcasts on the Web, mobile apps, game consoles, and pretty much every other gadget capable of displaying video. It not only carries the same local blackout policy to the Internet, but extends it.

Suppose our Boston-based Dodgers fan subscribes to MLB.TV so he can watch games on his iPhone while traveling. He’s on a business trip to Sacramento while his Dodgers are playing an inter-league game at home against the Oakland As. Our poor fan won’t be able to watch the game because the A’s broadcast region includes Sacramento. If he’s lucky, his hotel will offer the A’s broadcast, and he can watch the game, albeit without the services of the Dodger’s legendary broadcaster Vin Scully. Poor fellow!

Still, it could be worse. Next time he takes a trip to Des Moines, Iowa, he’ll be lucky if he can see the Dodgers at all. There are no MLB teams in the entire state of Iowa, but six teams have broadcast rights–the Cubs, White Sox, Cardinals, Twins, Royals, and Brewers–not that local cable providers in Iowa carry any of those teams, let alone all of them. But if the Dodgers are playing one of those six teams, our guy is out of luck.

Even when our poor fan isn’t blacked out of watching his favorite team, it’s still not all sunshine and roses. MLB.TV’s rights to rebroadcast games online doesn’t include rights to show the commercials. No, that doesn’t mean that the online broadcasts are commercial-free. MLB.TV supplies their own commercials. Remember, MLB and the individual teams are being very well paid by the networks for the rights to televise the games. Then, individual viewers pay for MLB.TV. But since they can’t show the networks’ commercials, MLB supplements their income further by selling commercial time on MLB.TV.

Unfortunately for our loyal Dodger fan, there are fewer than ten advertisers. If you don’t count MLB itself, for most of the season, there are no more than six. And each advertiser has one commercial.

Figure that there are twenty to twenty-five commercial breaks in a typical game (one after each half inning, as well as one each time a relief pitcher comes in; there may also be an occasional break due to an on-field injury). That means the viewer will be traumatized by nearly two dozen airings of each commercial every game he watches.

I’m only speaking for myself here, but how can this be a positive tactic for the advertisers? Maybe I’m overly sensitive, but after three-quarters of a season, I have sworn a binding oath that I will not fly on United Airlines, I will never shampoo with Head and Shoulders, never invest with Edward Jones, and never, ever, every buy a Land Rover*. I can’t be the only one who feels this way, can I?

* I’m still undecided about MasterCard. On the one hand, their commercial is just as annoying as all the others, and it’s repeated just as often. On the other hand, the commercial does promote the card in the context of their financial contribution to cancer research through Stand Up To Cancer. I’m sure MasterCard’s motives are just as basely commercial as any of the other advertisers, but at least they’re also promoting a worthwhile cause. I haven’t yet chopped up the one MasterCard I have, but it gets a little harder every time I see that commercial.

Can we hope for a more fan-friendly policy in the future, with fewer blackouts and less annoying commercials?

Bud Selig is retiring in January. His just-elected successor, Rob Manfred, has been Bud’s right-hand man for years. That could mean a continuation of policies already in place, including those related to MLB’s media presence, or it could mean major changes as Manfred moves to establish his influence, independent of Selig’s legacy. Manfred has a mandate to increase baseball’s appeal to a younger, presumably more Internet-friendly, demographic, but he’s also well aware that TV is probably the source of most of MLB’s profit. Keeping the networks happy has to be high on the team owners’ list of priorities, and that means it’s going to be high on Manfred’s list as well.

The blackout policy is under legal fire. Fans filed suit in 2012 against the blackout policy, charging that it violates federal antitrust laws. MLB has an exemption from many of the antitrust laws, but the extent of the exemption is up for grabs in several suits.

Change could be coming. Stay tuned–unless the festivities are blacked out in your area.