All I ever needed to know I learned from the funny pages

I’m part of a dying breed: I still get a Sunday newspaper. And the first section I read is always the comics. Probably because my brain is so feeble. But you can find some profound wisdom in the funny pages too. Here’s a Pearls Before Swine strip from last year that I found very enlightening.

It puts the rat race in perspective, doesn’t it?

If you don’t get a newspaper but still want to keep up with the comics (an underappreciated art form, sez me), you can check out some decent ones at GoComics.com. A list of popular strips is here. They just re-ran the great week of Calvin & Hobbes daily strips where Calvin finds a hurt baby raccoon. Start here and read six days’ worth and you’ll see how Bill Watterson could convey more about the human experience in three black-and-white panels than most folks could do in a thousand-page novel.

 

And the Oscar goes to… the typography guy

Yes, there was a colossal screw-up at the Academy Awards last Sunday. And the main reason was the fact that Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway were given the wrong envelope. But a gentleman named Benjamin Bannister pointed out that a change in typography might’ve helped prevent the snafu. You can read his entire “Why Typography Matters–Especially at the Oscars” column here.

Simply by rearranging the words on the card to create a better “priority of communication” and giving more visual weight to the key words, it would’ve been much more clear that Beatty and Dunaway had the wrong card.

You could tell that Warren Beatty knew something wasn’t quite right, but with “best actress” buried at the bottom in tiny type, it was certainly an honest mistake for Faye Dunaway to call “La La Land” up to the stage.

I think Benjamin Bannister deserves a lifetime achievement award… and the old typography should only show up in next year’s Academy Awards show in the “In Memoriam” segment.

 

 

The media’s a circus, but we don’t have to be the clowns

Marketing guru Seth Godin really nailed it in his recent post about the growth of commercial media. And “growth” in this case means it’s spreading like a cancer. You should read the entire thing, and subscribe to Seth’s daily blog because he always offers some tasty food for thought.

But here (in italics) are a few excerpts I found particularly insightful:

They sow dissatisfaction—advertising increases our feeling of missing out, and purchasing offers a momentary respite from that dissatisfaction.

Much of that dissatisfaction is about more vs. enough, about moving up a commercial ladder that’s primarily defined by things that can be purchased. It’s possible to have far more than your grandparents did but still be deeply unhappy believing that you don’t have enough.

Hence a new iPhone release every year.

The media likes events and circuses and bowl games, because they have a beginning and an ending, and because they can be programmed and promoted. They invite us into the situation room, alarm us with breaking news and then effortlessly move onto the next crisis.

Hence the stories about shark attacks every summer, even though you have a 1 in 63 chance of dying from the flu and a 1 in 3,700,000 chance of being killed by a shark during your lifetime.

And now they’re being gamed at their own game, because the artificial scarcity that was created by the FCC has been replaced by a surplus and a race to the bottom, with no gatekeepers and with plenty of advertisers willing to pay for any shred of attention.

Intellectual pursuits don’t align with the options that media would rather have us care about.

A walk in the woods with a friend or your kids does the media-industrial complex no good at all. It’s sort of the opposite of pro wrestling.

Books are the lowest form of media (too slow, too long-lasting, no sponsors, low profit) while instant-on, always-on social networks are about as good as it gets. For the media.

If you’re not the customer, you’re the product.

Hence “click bait” headlines, fake news and trolling. In the 60’s Timothy Leary encouraged us to “turn on, tune in, drop out” but now it should be “turn off, tune out, drop back into the real world.”

 

Choco-holic

Graeter’s Ice Cream is a family-owned company that has been a part of Cincinnati since 1870. Their small batch (hand-swirled in two-gallon “French Pot” containers), artisanal ice cream flavors have made them a local icon, and won the taste buds and hearts of ice cream aficionados from coast to coast. Their Black Raspberry Chocolate Chip flavor is far and away their most popular flavor.

Braxton Brewing Company is a family-owned company that has only been around a couple of years in Covington, KY, just across the river from downtown Cincinnati.

Last night, Braxton and Graeter’s unveiled their collaboration beer – Black Raspberry Chocolate Chip Milk Stout.

 

The Braxton taproom was packed for the official tapping and release party. Lines went around the block, even in the frigid weather.

I went, partly to get my grubby paws on a couple of four-packs. Partly to witness the sheer spectacle of it. But mainly because I know the family that owns Braxton. I work with Greg Rouse, who is a print production genius at our company in his day job. His older son Jake interned with us several years ago, during the summer after his junior year of college. He graduated from Indiana University’s prestigious Kelley School of Business with a degree in Entrepreneurship and Corporate Innovation. Greg’s younger son Evan is the wunderkind brewer of the family, starting out homebrewing in the garage of their home on Braxton Avenue (hence the brewery name) and winning all sorts of awards. When Jake graduated from college, it completely made sense for them to start a brewery, with Jake as the “hustler,” Evan as the “hacker” and Greg as the production wizard (sourcing and negotiating prices on everything from hops to bar stools to old-fashioned ice cream parlor milkshake glasses for the Graeter’s beer). And Greg’s wife Tina helps run the taproom. They’re such great people, and I’m thrilled for them. Greg is a very no-nonsense kind of guy, but he’s admitted several times what a thrill it is to be able to work with his sons in a successful business.

Three cheers for family-owned companies. Braxton, may you continue to thrive a century from now, just like your friends at Graeter’s.

P.S. The beer is mighty tasty. The four-pack above is no longer a four-pack. Or even a three-pack. Chocolate is good for you, right?

 

Where there’s smoke, there’s suspicion

I don’t normally read Rolling Stone, but when I’m waiting at the dentist’s office with my kids and my choices are limited to:

A. a two-month old “Hot List” issue of Rolling Stone OR

B. a Highlights magazine where some dirty rat has already circled all the hidden objects in the picture puzzle (damn you to hell!)

I’ll go with the former. Their November issue featured Bruno Mars on the cover. Notice he’s holding a cigarette.

And in the photo spread for the Bruno Mars article, again he has a cig.

OK, so Bruno Mars is a smoker. Sad, but true. But turn a few more pages and you find a glossy photo of someone named Tinashe. (I’m so out of the pop music loop I don’t even know how to pronounce her name… Tina-SHAY? Tuh-NOSH-ay? TIN-ash?) And the pop princess is seductively sporting a smoking cigarette (say that 3 times fast).

But wait, there’s more. Turn a few more pages and you’ll find “Hot Actress” Haley Bennett, and yes, you guessed it, she’s smoking a cigarette also.

So the four largest, most prominent photos in the entire magazine feature people holding or smoking a cigarette. If I were the cynical type, I might strongly suspect that one or more cigarette companies (a.k.a. Merchants of Death) might’ve arranged an off-the-books, under the table sort of product placement deal. We all know that print is dying, so Rolling Stone certainly might be tempted to take some cash in a quid pro quo deal… or maybe Bruno, Tinashe and Haley got a wad of cash for holding a wad of tobacco. Certainly it would be a way to circumvent the tight restrictions on tobacco advertising in print… and make it seem “cool” to kids because all the “hot list” folks are doing it.

But no, Big Tobacco would never do something as insidious as that, right?

http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/tobacco-companies-resist-corrective-statement-harms-smoking/

http://www.drugfree.org/news-service/tobacco-company-tactics-lie-for-years-then-blame-victims-for-being-deceived/

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/07/01/tobacco-industry-e-cigarettes_n_3453821.html

http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/01/20/big-tobacco-s-biggest-lies.html

http://www.lung.org/our-initiatives/tobacco/reports-resources/sotc/by-the-numbers/10-really-bad-things-the.html?referrer=https://www.google.com/

http://www.tobaccofreekids.org/research/factsheets/pdf/0114.pdf

Jingle all the way

As an auditory learner, a music lover, a kid from the radio era (OK, we did have a whopping 3 TV networks) and someone who spent a decade working in advertising, I’m hard-wired to like jingles. A few of those earworms that were created merely to move the merchandise are still stuck in my head decades after I last heard them.

As a kid in rural Arkansas, I used to stay up at night (and sometimes get up very early in the morning) and tune my transistor radio to WLS, a 50,000-watt powerhouse out of Chicago.

Sadly, the advertising jingle is a dying art. Now advertisers find it easier (read: lazier) to license an existing song or commission a pop knockoff. Here’s a great NPR interview with the “Jingle King” Steve Karmen. He wrote “I Love New York,” “This Bud’s for You,” “Nationwide is on your side” and dozens of other memorable jingles so it’s hard to argue with his title… although Barry Manilow got his start penning jingles for the likes of State Farm (“like a good neighbor…”) Band-Aid (“I am stuck on Band-Aid Brand…”) and McDonald’s (“You deserve a break today…”).

There’s a nice article in The Atlantic about the demise of the jingle too.

Where have you gone, “Oscar Meyer Wiener Song”? If White Hen stores were still around, and they sold cassette tapes of advertising jingles (or even 8-tracks), I’d totally buy the entire set.

Burgers on the brain, brain on the burgers

According to this sign, Rally’s has a new Artificial Intelligence (AI) burger.

It’s a slippery slope. First the burger learns what condiments you like on it. Then it cooks and serves itself to you. Then things take a turn for the worse:

  • you wind up serving the burger (literally and figuratively)
  • the burger becomes fully sentient, and you become Soylent

  • Ultimately, the AI burger stages a bloodless (but not ketchup-less) coup and overthrows the erstwhile Burger King.

So enjoy that buttery steak flavor for now. But don’t say I didn’t warn you!

 

 

Advertising 101

Can you read the tiny text on this billboard?

2016-10-11-09-29-10

Didn’t think so. Imagine how difficult it would be to read it if you were driving past at 40 m.p.h. Back when I worked at ad agencies (I believe it was the Iron Age), the rule of thumb for billboard copy was “7 words or less.” And the goal was to have one key image with words and logo in a large font, so that drivers could get the message with a quick glance as they were whizzing by. Clearly no one at Erie Insurance’s ad agency got that memo. That text up top would be difficult to read if it were a foot from your face, much less from 40 yards away in a moving vehicle.

So basically they’ve wasted whatever money they spent on this billboard. That’s OK, they’ll probably make it up by jacking up premiums.

 

 

 

The opposite of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups

As any good child of the 70’s knows, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups are “two great tastes that taste great together.”

And yes, that’s Mr. Ice Castles on the left and “Ralph Malph” on the right.

Even in the 80’s, when Walkmans were all the rage, the Reese’s beat went on.

(What’s with the creepy store owner lurking in the background? He’s like Mr. Hooper‘s evil twin. And what’s with folks walking down the street eating peanut butter straight out of a plastic tub? Sure, that’s plausible.)

But not every combo works as well as PB and chocolate. Here’s Exhibit A: Swedish Fish flavored Oreos.

2016-08-26 22.28.44

Swedish Fish are fine on their own, and original Oreos are a classic, but when you combine the flavors it’s clearly too much of a sweet thing. Waaaay too much of a sweet thing. We’re talking instant hyperglycemia. And the flavor combination isn’t quite as  bad as orange juice + toothpaste, but it’s close.

This happens a lot with established brands like Oreo. Instead of trying to create new products, they just slap different flavors on their cash cows. Which is why these products actually exist:

oreo_watermelon2 oreo_pspice oreo_fruitpunch oreo_candycorn

And there’s plenty more where that came from. Lays is another big offender. They love cluttering the shelves with gems like these:

lays-weird

“I’d really like a handful of cappuccino flavored potato chips right now” – said no one ever!

I wouldn’t be surprised to see Sriracha Oreos on shelves next summer.

Older. Wiser. Cooler.

Normally when there’s a pre-roll ad slapped on the front of a video I want to see, I click “skip ad” as soon as I can. But the one below sucked me in within the first few seconds. I watched the entire six minutes and 46 seconds and was so glad I did. I wouldn’t even call it an ad, it’s a short film really, a character study with a powerful message. Heck, I didn’t even know what the ad was for until the very end.

Ricky is my new hero, and Doris rocks!