Look at Mad Men, the widely acclaimed TV series about Madison Avenue in the ’60s. (It starts back up April 5.) One of the things the show is acclaimed for is its authenticity, which is significant because, if the show really is authentic, then people in the advertising industry back then spent roughly 90% of their time smoking, drinking or having extramarital sex.
If Mad Men really is authentic, it explains much about the TV commercials of my childhood, which, in terms of intellectual content, make the commercials of today look like Citizen Kane. Back then many commercials featured a Male Authority Figure in the form of an actor pretending to be a doctor or scientist. Sometimes, to indicate how authoritative he was, he wore a white lab coat. The Male Authority Figure usually spoke directly to the camera, sometimes using charts or diagrams to explain important scientific facts, such as that certain brands of cigarettes could actually soothe your throat, or that Anacin could stop all three known medical causes of headaches:
1. Electrical bolts inside your head.
2. A big coiled spring inside your head.
3. A hammer pounding inside your head.
Another standard character in those old commercials was the Desperately Insecure Housewife, who was portrayed by an actress in a dress. The Desperately Insecure Housewife always had some hideous inadequacy as a homemaker — her coffee was bitter, her laundry detergent was ineffective against stains, etc. She couldn’t even escape to the bathroom without being lectured on commode sanitation by a tiny man rowing a rowboat around inside her toilet tank.
Even back then, everybody thought these commercials were stupid. But it wasn’t until years later, when I started watching Mad Men, that I realized why they were so stupid: The people making them were so drunk they had the brain functionality of road salt.
Dave Barry, “The Greatest (Party) Generation”, Wall Street Journal, 2015-02-26.
September 19, 2016
May 21, 2016
December 20, 2015
December 16, 2015
Henry Miller on the Faustian bargain Chipotle willingly made and is now paying for:
Chipotle, the once-popular Mexican restaurant chain, is experiencing a well-deserved downward spiral.
The company found it could pass off a fast-food menu stacked with high-calorie, sodium-rich options as higher quality and more nutritious because the meals were made with locally grown, genetic engineering-free ingredients. And to set the tone for the kind of New Age-y image the company wanted, Chipotle adopted slogans like, “We source from farms rather than factories” and, “With every burrito we roll or bowl we fill, we’re working to cultivate a better world.”
The rest of the company wasn’t as swift as the marketing department, however. Last week, about 140 people, all but a handful Boston College students, were recovering from a nasty bout of norovirus-caused gastroenteritis, a foodborne illness apparently contracted while eating Chipotle’s “responsibly raised” meats and largely organic produce.
And they’re not alone. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been tracking another, unrelated Chipotle food poisoning outbreak in California, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Washington, in which victims have been as young as one year and as old as 94. Using whole genome sequencing, CDC investigators identified the DNA fingerprint of the bacterial culprit in that outbreak as E. coli strain STEC O26, which was found in all of the sickened customers tested.
Outbreaks of food poisoning have become something of a Chipotle trademark; the recent ones are the fourth and fifth this year, one of which was not disclosed to the public. A particularly worrisome aspect of the company’s serial deficiencies is that there have been at least three unrelated pathogens in the outbreaks – Salmonella and E. coli bacteria and norovirus. In other words, there has been more than a single glitch; suppliers and employees have found a variety of ways to contaminate what Chipotle cavalierly sells (at premium prices) to its customers.
November 23, 2015
At The Register, Iain Thomson explains a new sneaky way for unscrupulous companies to snag your personal data without your knowledge or consent:
Earlier this week the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) warned that an Indian firm called SilverPush has technology that allows adverts to ping inaudible commands to smartphones and tablets.
Now someone has reverse-engineered the code and published it for everyone to check.
SilverPush’s software kit can be baked into apps, and is designed to pick up near-ultrasonic sounds embedded in, say, a TV, radio or web browser advert. These signals, in the range of 18kHz to 19.95kHz, are too high pitched for most humans to hear, but can be decoded by software.
An application that uses SilverPush’s code can pick up these messages from the phone or tablet’s builtin microphone, and be directed to send information such as the handheld’s IMEI number, location, operating system version, and potentially the identity of the owner, to the application’s backend servers.
Imagine sitting in front of the telly with your smartphone nearby. An advert comes on during the show you’re watching, and it has a SilverPush ultrasonic message embedded in it. This is picked up by an app on your mobile, which pings a media network with information about you, and could even display followup ads and links on your handheld.
“This kind of technology is fundamentally surreptitious in that it doesn’t require consent; if it did require it then the number of users would drop,” Joe Hall, chief technologist at CDT told The Register on Thursday. “It lacks the ability to have consumers say that they don’t want this and not be associated by the software.”
Hall pointed out that very few of the applications that include the SilverPush SDK tell users about it, so there was no informed consent. This makes such software technically illegal in Europe and possibly in the US.
September 14, 2015
Jerry Pournelle talks about his differing browser experiences on the Microsoft Surface:
Apple had their announcements today, but I had story conferences so I could not watch them live. I finished my fiction work about lunch time, so I thought to view some reports, and it is time I learned more about the new Windows and get more use to my Surface 3 Pro; a fitting machine to view new Apple products, particularly their new iPad Pro which is I expect their answer to the Surface Pro and Windows 10.
My usual browser is Firefox, which has features I don’t love but by and large I get along with it; but with the Surface it seemed appropriate to make a serious effort to use Edge, the new Microsoft Browser. Of course it has Microsoft Bing the default search engine. It also doesn’t really understand the size of the Pro. It gave me horizontal scrolling, even though I had Edge full screen. I looked up Apple announcements, and Bing gave me a nice list. Right click on the nice bent Microsoft pocket wireless mouse, and open a repost in a new screen. Lo, I have to do horizontal scrolling; Edge makes sure there are ads on screen at all times, so you have to horizontal screen the text to see all of it. Line by line. But I can always see some ads. Edge makes sure I don’t miss ads. It doesn’t care whether I can read the text I was looking for, but it is more careful about the ads. I’m sure that makes the advertisers happy, but I’m not so sure about the users. I thought I went looking for an article, not for ads.
Edge also kept doing things I hadn’t asked it to, and I’d lose the text. Eventually I found if I closed the window and went back to the Bing screen and right clicked to open that same window in a new tab, I was able to – carefully – screen through the text, and adjust the screen so all the text was on screen even though there was still horizontal scrolling possible. This is probably a function of inexperience, but using a touch screen and Edge is a new experience.
Even so it was a rough read. I gave up and went to Firefox on the Surface Pro. Firefox has Google as its default browser, and the top selections it offered me – all I could see on one screen – were different from the ones I saw with Bing. I had to do a bit of scrolling to find the article I had been trying to read, but eventually I found it. Right click to open it in a new Tab. Voila. All my text in the center. I could read it. Much easier. For the record: same site, adjusted to width in Firefox on the Surface Pro, horizontal scrolling of the same article viewed in Edge. Probably my fault, but I don’t know what I did wrong.
Now in Microsoft’s defense, I don’t know Edge very well; but if you are going to a Surface Pro, you may well find Firefox easier to use than Edge. A lot easier to use.
As to Google vs. Bing, in this one case I found Bing superior; what it offered me had more content. But Edge is advertiser friendly, not User friendly.
July 26, 2015
“What bicycle did you say this was of yours?” asked George.
Harris told him. I forget of what particular manufacture it happened to be; it is immaterial.
“Are you sure?” persisted George.
“Of course I am sure,” answered Harris. “Why, what’s the matter with it?”
“Well, it doesn’t come up to the poster,” said George, “that’s all.”
“What poster?” asked Harris.
“The poster advertising this particular brand of cycle,” explained George. “I was looking at one on a hoarding in Sloane Street only a day or two before we started. A man was riding this make of machine, a man with a banner in his hand: he wasn’t doing any work, that was clear as daylight; he was just sitting on the thing and drinking in the air. The cycle was going of its own accord, and going well. This thing of yours leaves all the work to me. It is a lazy brute of a machine; if you don’t shove, it simply does nothing: I should complain about it, if I were you.”
When one comes to think of it, few bicycles do realise the poster. On only one poster that I can recollect have I seen the rider represented as doing any work. But then this man was being pursued by a bull. In ordinary cases the object of the artist is to convince the hesitating neophyte that the sport of bicycling consists in sitting on a luxurious saddle, and being moved rapidly in the direction you wish to go by unseen heavenly powers.
Generally speaking, the rider is a lady, and then one feels that, for perfect bodily rest combined with entire freedom from mental anxiety, slumber upon a water-bed cannot compare with bicycle-riding upon a hilly road. No fairy travelling on a summer cloud could take things more easily than does the bicycle girl, according to the poster. Her costume for cycling in hot weather is ideal. Old-fashioned landladies might refuse her lunch, it is true; and a narrowminded police force might desire to secure her, and wrap her in a rug preliminary to summonsing her. But such she heeds not. Uphill and downhill, through traffic that might tax the ingenuity of a cat, over road surfaces calculated to break the average steam roller she passes, a vision of idle loveliness; her fair hair streaming to the wind, her sylph-like form poised airily, one foot upon the saddle, the other resting lightly upon the lamp. Sometimes she condescends to sit down on the saddle; then she puts her feet on the rests, lights a cigarette, and waves above her head a Chinese lantern.
Less often, it is a mere male thing that rides the machine. He is not so accomplished an acrobat as is the lady; but simple tricks, such as standing on the saddle and waving flags, drinking beer or beef-tea while riding, he can and does perform. Something, one supposes, he must do to occupy his mind: sitting still hour after hour on this machine, having no work to do, nothing to think about, must pall upon any man of active temperament. Thus it is that we see him rising on his pedals as he nears the top of some high hill to apostrophise the sun, or address poetry to the surrounding scenery.
Occasionally the poster pictures a pair of cyclists; and then one grasps the fact how much superior for purposes of flirtation is the modern bicycle to the old-fashioned parlour or the played-out garden gate. He and she mount their bicycles, being careful, of course, that such are of the right make. After that they have nothing to think about but the old sweet tale. Down shady lanes, through busy towns on market days, merrily roll the wheels of the “Bermondsey Company’s Bottom Bracket Britain’s Best,” or of the “Camberwell Company’s Jointless Eureka.” They need no pedalling; they require no guiding. Give them their heads, and tell them what time you want to get home, and that is all they ask. While Edwin leans from his saddle to whisper the dear old nothings in Angelina’s ear, while Angelina’s face, to hide its blushes, is turned towards the horizon at the back, the magic bicycles pursue their even course.
And the sun is always shining and the roads are always dry. No stern parent rides behind, no interfering aunt beside, no demon small boy brother is peeping round the corner, there never comes a skid. Ah me! Why were there no “Britain’s Best” nor “Camberwell Eurekas” to be hired when we were young?
Or maybe the “Britain’s Best” or the “Camberwell Eureka” stands leaning against a gate; maybe it is tired. It has worked hard all the afternoon, carrying these young people. Mercifully minded, they have dismounted, to give the machine a rest. They sit upon the grass beneath the shade of graceful boughs; it is long and dry grass. A stream flows by their feet. All is rest and peace.
That is ever the idea the cycle poster artist sets himself to convey — rest and peace.
But I am wrong in saying that no cyclist, according to the poster, ever works. Now I come to reflect, I have seen posters representing gentlemen on cycles working very hard — over-working themselves, one might almost say. They are thin and haggard with the toil, the perspiration stands upon their brow in beads; you feel that if there is another hill beyond the poster they must either get off or die. But this is the result of their own folly. This happens because they will persist in riding a machine of an inferior make. Were they riding a “Putney Popular” or “Battersea Bounder,” such as the sensible young man in the centre of the poster rides, then all this unnecessary labour would be saved to them. Then all required of them would be, as in gratitude bound, to look happy; perhaps, occasionally to back-pedal a little when the machine in its youthful buoyancy loses its head for a moment and dashes on too swiftly.
You tired young men, sitting dejectedly on milestones, too spent to heed the steady rain that soaks you through; you weary maidens, with the straight, damp hair, anxious about the time, longing to swear, not knowing how; you stout bald men, vanishing visibly as you pant and grunt along the endless road; you purple, dejected matrons, plying with pain the slow unwilling wheel; why did you not see to it that you bought a “Britain’s Best” or a “Camberwell Eureka”? Why are these bicycles of inferior make so prevalent throughout the land?
Or is it with bicycling as with all other things: does Life at no point realise the Poster?
Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men on the Bummel, 1914.
July 12, 2015
I really haven’t been following the uproar over the gaming journalism narrative … so this story may be completely off-base (but it does at least match some of what I’ve heard from folks who are invested in the argument):
Video game journalists: those guys who use phrases like “high octane,” “balls-to-the-wall” and “artistic integrity“; the sadomasochists who label factions of their own community xenophobes and fascists, for daring to express an ironic sense of humor; the enlightened few, who described fans as whiny and “entitled” for voicing their displeasure over the conclusion to a beloved franchise.
These past few years have not been kind to the gaming community. To put it mildly, of late, video game journalists have not been too generous to the gaming community.
“Give us your clicks, your Facebook shares, your unfaltering loyalty,” they say, all doe-eyed and loving. “Oh, and please don’t enable AdBlock!” Video game journalists excitedly invite their readership to view their news articles, reviews and opinion pieces, only to kick them to the curb when they’ve siphoned up the ad money. If that’s not how the state of play is, that’s certainly how it feels.
It’s like a depressing, unfulfilling booty call, where, ultimately, everyone comes out a little crustier and disease-ridden. The games journalists may earn some clicks for cash, but they lose little pieces of their souls, their innocence, their Bambi-like demeanor. Meanwhile, angry gamers hop about social networks, gnashing their teeth and venting their disdain for the press. The fans’ incredulity over the behavior of these journalists, in turn, makes the journalists just as incredulous. The fans feel downtrodden and used, the journalists feel violated and misunderstood, and a toxic cycle of hate ensues.
A number of culture critics and social crusaders have helped foster an atmosphere of tension and animosity, striking a war between gamers and members of the games press. However, while these individuals struck the match of the debate, the journalists hurriedly gathered the canisters of gasoline. In fact, little did the community realize, these self-interested people had not been on “their side” for quite some time.
H/T to Perry de Havilland for the link, and the rather eye-catching GIF:
July 8, 2015
May 12, 2015
The problem with the posters in the airport was that they resembled the political propaganda of a totalitarian regime, insinuating what could not be dissented from without some danger or personal inconvenience. I do not mean to say that we now live in such a regime in the most literal sense, that we have already to fear the midnight knock on the door, but rather that the posters contribute to a miasma of untruth, the kind of untruth that is becoming socially dangerous, or at least embarrassing, to point out. For if you do dissent from such a slogan you will be immediately cast into the social Gehenna where the reactionaries are sent, whose cries of outrage can be dismissed merely by virtue of who they are. If you say that science does not need women, you will be taken to mean that you think that women should be confined to children, kitchen, and church, and that you are an advocate of the burqa (though actually I would make it compulsory for young English women in the center of English towns and cities on Friday and Saturday nights, though only for aesthetic, not for moral or religious, reasons).
Not to be able to answer back to perceived untruths: such is the powerlessness that can eventually drive people to espouse the worst causes.
Theodore Dalrymple, “A Miasma of Untruth”, Taki’s Magazine, 2014-06-29.
March 4, 2015
Megan McArdle on the weird things some people can believe:
I got a lot of responses to my post last week on Wal-Mart’s decision to raise the minimum wage many of its employees earn to $10 an hour next year. One variety of response stood out: the folks who said “Wal-Mart is doing this because it’s good for its business.”
It stood out because it is almost right, but not quite. The correct statement is that “Wal-Mart is doing this because it thinks it’s good for its business.” Never ignore the possibility that Wal-Mart could be completely wrong.
I remark on this because some of the arguments I saw verged upon what I’ve come to think of as “corporation theology”: the belief that if a corporation is doing something, that thing must be incredibly profitable. This is no less of a faith-based statement than the Immaculate Conception of Mary. Yet it is surprisingly popular among commentators, not just on the right, but also on the left.
This left-wing writer was evincing considerably more faith than I have in the American corporation. Corporations do dumb stuff all the time — for decades, even. Moreover, advertising has multiple purposes. It can of course induce you to consume more of a product, but frankly, no matter how much Pepperidge Farm advertises, it’s probably not going to dramatically increase America’s consumption of prepackaged cookies. So why does it advertise? Because it wants you to choose a Milano instead of an Oreo or one of them newfangled biscotti.
This is corporation theology. Of course, you also see it on the right — arguments that if some product were good or desirable, a corporation would already have provided it. The entire history of human progress argues against this theory.
As these two examples suggest, corporation theology gets trimmed to personal and ideological convenience, as all theologies often are: A liberal is capable of simultaneously believing that market failures abound in industries he or she would like to regulate, and also that Costco knows how to run Wal-Mart’s labor policy better than Wal-Mart does; a conservative, the inverse. Both are wrong. Corporations, like all human institutions, are great engines for making mistakes. The only reason they seem so competent is that companies who make too many mistakes go out of business, and we don’t have them around for comparison.
February 15, 2015
At Techdirt, Karl Bode sings the praises of dumb TVs that don’t share your every word with unspecified “third parties” who may or may not have any compunction about further sharing of what happens in your home (within audio range of your TV, anyway):
But it’s something else stupid that Samsung did this week that got less press attention, but that I actually find far more troubling. Numerous Samsung smart TV users around the world this week stated that the company has started injecting ads into content being watched on third-party devices and services. For example, some users found that when streaming video content from PC to the living room using Plex, they suddenly were faced with a large ad for Pepsi that actually originated from their Samsung TV:
“Reports for the unwelcome ad interruption first surfaced on a Subreddit dedicated to Plex, the media center app that is available on a variety of connected devices, including Samsung smart TVs. Plex users typically use the app to stream local content from their computer or a network-attached storage drive to their TV, which is why many were very surprised to see an online video ad being inserted into their videos. A Plex spokesperson assured me that the company has nothing to do with the ad in question.”
Now Samsung hasn’t responded yet to this particular issue, and you’d have to think that the company accidentally enabled some kind of trial ad injection technology, since anything else would be idiotic brand seppuku (in fact it does appear like it has been working with Yahoo on just this kind of technology). Still, users say the ads have them rushing to disable the smart portion of Samsung TVs, whether that’s by using a third party solution or digging into the bowels of the TV’s settings to refuse Samsung’s end user agreement. And that raises an important point: many consumers (myself included) want their TV to be as slack-jawed, glassy-eyed, dumb and dim-witted as possible.
February 6, 2015
The stuff had an unpalatable reputation — no one likes the taste of Listerine, which is why Listerine had to come up with Flavored Listerine. Perhaps people respected it because it did taste so horrid; you could well imagine it was killing germs by the millions, because it tasted like death in your mouth. If Listerine Toothpaste had been flavored with mint or Pepsin! or Iridium! or some other brand-new ingredient, surely they would have told you up front. Unmodified “Listerine” is a warning.
James Lileks, The Bleat, 2015-01-20.
February 2, 2015
I may have missed a few, as I didn’t get to start watching the game until near the end of the first quarter, but of the ones that Forbes included in their round-up, I recognize only the Doritos, Coca-Cola (ugh!) and #LikeAGirl ads. We certainly got more than our fair share of Ford F-150, Nissan, and The Keg ads, however. I’d show more, but a surprising number of the ads now show warnings similar to this
I’m sure they’ll eventually clear the border, but part of the point of the advertisers paying the big bucks for the Super Bowl timeslot is the immediacy.
January 29, 2015
Christopher Taylor points out that the folks who advised Comcast on their recent home security advertising campaign rather missed the mark:
Comcast is trying to act like using any other security system is old fashioned; its actually a tag line in some of their ads “don’t be old fashioned.” They’re using the old knight in armor to stand in for any other security system which, not being “in the cloud” and accessible “anywhere” from your smart phone is thus dated and old.
But consider; which would be preferable?
- An internet based system which, by its own advertising notes that you can turn it off “from anywhere” using only a phone, and look at cameras anywhere in your home, just by using the phone.
- An armored knight with a broadsword.
Now, perhaps you’re new to the internet and aren’t aware of this, but it gets hacked pretty much every minute of the day. Passwords are stolen and sold on Chinese and Russian websites. Your smart phone is not secure.
I once found a website (now gone) that had live feeds of people’s homes from around the world by clicking on various names. All they did was use commonly used passwords and logged into the security systems. It was like this weird voyeuristic show, but really boring because it was all empty rooms and darkness — people turn on their security when they leave, not when they do fun stuff to watch.
What I’m saying is what should be abundantly obvious to everyone who has a television to watch Comcast ads: this is a really stupid, bad idea. You’re making it easier for burglars to turn off your security system and watch for when you aren’t home. You’re making it easier for evil sexual predators and monsters to know your patterns and when you’re home or alone. Get it?
This is like publishing your daily activities and living in a glass building all day long. It seems cool and high tech and new and fancy, but its just really stupid.
But an armored knight? Unless he goes to sleep, he’s a physical, combat-ready soldier that acts as a physical deterrent to intruders.
And its not even old fashioned. It’s so old an image, it doesn’t even feel old fashioned, it feels beyond vintage to a fantasy era. Which is cooler to you, being guarded by a knight in shining armor with a sword, or your smart phone?
These ads have a viral feel to them, like some hip college dude with a fancy business card came up with it for Comcast, but they don’t make sense. I doubt they even get people to want to buy the product.