Quotulatiousness

October 31, 2014

“Candy … is essential to understanding the history of how Americans eat”

Filed under: History, Media, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 06:56

Virginia Postrel talks to Samira Kawash about her book Candy: A Century of Panic and Pleasure:

It was, Kawash writes, the “first ready-to-eat processed food, the original ancestor of all our fast, convenient, fun, imperishable, tasty, highly advertised brand-name snacks and meals.” For more than a century, we’ve simultaneously gorged on the stuff and felt guilty about it. It’s an intensified version of our ambivalent and fickle attitudes toward abundant, convenient, mass-produced food in general.

“The candy that gives us some of our happiest experiences is the same candy that rots our teeth, ruins our appetite, and sucks tender innocents into a desperate life of sugar addiction,” she writes. “Candy joins the ideas of pleasure and poison, innocence and vice, in a way that’s unique and a bit puzzling.” Candy is, one might say, both trick and treat. With Halloween in mind, I interviewed Kawash by e-mail.

Question: When and how did candy become associated with Halloween? Was trick-or-treating just concocted to sell candy?

Answer: Would you believe the earliest trick-or-treaters didn’t even expect to get candy? Back in the 1930s, when kids first started chanting “trick or treat” at the doorbell, the treat could be just about anything: nuts, coins, a small toy, a cookie or popcorn ball. Sometimes candy too, maybe a few jelly beans or a licorice stick. But it wasn’t until well into the 1950s that Americans started buying treats instead of making them, and the easiest treat to buy was candy. The candy industry also advertised heavily, and by the 1960s was offering innovative packaging and sizes like mini-bars to make it even easier to give out candy at Halloween. But if you look at candy trade discussions about holiday marketing in the 1920s and 1930s, Halloween doesn’t even get a mention.

October 6, 2014

Pollsters are finding it even harder to get people to talk to them

Filed under: Business, Politics — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 18:06

In Mother Jones Kevin Drum discusses the plight of the poor poll organizations who have seen yet another drop in their telephone response rates. A recent report said that the average response rate for polling companies this year is 11.8%, and that’s a 1.9% drop from 2012. It probably explains why the polls seem less accurate every election.

I assume the problem here is twofold. First, there are too many polls. A few decades ago it might have seemed like a big deal to get a call from a Gallup pollster. Sort of like being a Nielsen family. Today it’s not. Polls are now conducted so frequently, and the public has become so generally media savvy, that it’s just sort of a nuisance.

More generally, there are just too many spam phone calls. The Do Not Call Registry was a great idea, but there are (a) too many loopholes, including for pollsters, and (b) too many spammers who don’t give a damn. When the registry first went on line, my level of spam phone calls dropped dramatically. Since then, however, it’s gradually increased and is now nearly as bad as it ever was. I won’t even pick up the phone anymore if Caller ID suggests it’s a commercial call of some variety.

We’ve been seriously talking about dropping our land line: fewer than one call in ten is from anyone we know or do business with. Most of them are (real or fake) surveys, “Microsoft” scam calls, and “You’ve won a cruise!” spam. WestJet seems to think I’ve flown with them and keeps calling me to say “Thank you for flying WestJet” (the harassing phone calls make it exceedingly unlikely that I’d voluntarily do any business with them if I have a choice in the matter). My favourites are the “This is a very important call about your current credit card.” Those ones we hang up within three syllables on average.

October 3, 2014

QotD: Marketing

Filed under: Business, Media, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

Among those currently imagining our possible futures, one of the most persuasive is the novelist William Gibson, who, having evolved quite a bit past the man who wrote Neuromancer in 1984, can hardly be said to be imagining futures at all, with his most recent novels constituting, in his words, “speculative fiction of the very recent past,” more oriented toward social situations than technological situations. With the possible exception of David Foster Wallace, no novelist of whom I am aware has ever written with such freshness and imagination on the subject of advertising and marketing, which is a big part of what Wallace called “the texture of the world I live in.” Nor has any novelist quite so precisely identified what is sinister in our world of ubiquitous sales pitches: that something whose entire purpose is to be at the center of our attention still manages to be somehow covert. The marketing mentality is an invasive species; earnest young people now speak entirely seriously about their “personal brands” at the same time they complain about the commodification of this or that. Gibson understands the strangeness of our times, and my own mental shorthand for the odd little details one sometimes encounters, particularly in urban life, when one identifies something that is entirely ordinary and yet feels as if it were not in its right time and place, is “Feeling like I’m living in a William Gibson novel.”

Kevin D. Williamson, “Futures Trading: We are no longer thinking about the future because we believe we are there”, National Review, 2014-10-01.

September 17, 2014

Adrian Peterson won’t play this week (or perhaps for the rest of the NFL season)

Filed under: Business, Football, Law — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 15:44

I haven’t been posting much about the Adrian Peterson situation, partly because I was still waiting for the picture to clarify and partly because it just depressed the hell out of me to think about it. I agreed with the Vikings’ decision to deactivate Peterson for Sunday’s game against New England, even though it clearly distracted the team and disrupted the game planning: it was the right thing to do. I was shocked and dismayed when the team announced that Peterson would be returning to the team on Monday and would play this weekend in New Orleans.

I wasn’t alone in my reaction: the fans, the media, and even the team’s sponsors reacted very negatively to the announcement. The governor of Minnesota weighed in on the issue and his intervention had to be awkward, as he’d been a major supporter of the team’s campaign to get public funding for their new stadium now under construction. Some Viking players were happy to have Peterson back, but even there the support was not as widespread as it might have been … players from the south were much more vocal in their support than those from elsewhere in the nation.

As Monday wore on, a few more pebbles came loose from the PR dam, as the team learned from one sponsor after another that they were suspending or contemplating ending their promotional relationship with the team. Companies and organizations with a direct relationship to Peterson himself were even more direct: Nike, for example, ordered their retailers in Minnesota to stop selling any items branded with Peterson’s name or number.

The team’s ownership and management met late last night to hammer out a new answer to the PR disaster that had landed on them on Friday and had been made far worse by their Monday decision. Shortly before 1 a.m., the team announced that they’d made a mistake and that Peterson would not be active for the coming game. Instead, he’s being put on the NFL’s little-known exempt list, meaning that he’ll be paid his salary but will not be with the team until his legal issues are resolved. Although he’s being paid, he will not count against the team’s 53-man roster.

ESPN1500‘s Andrew Krammer has more:

Instead of Mike Zimmer and Matt Cassel commanding the podium on a typical Wednesday at Winter Park, Minnesota Vikings owner Zygi Wilf issued a statement and Mark Wilf, general manager Rick Spielman and team attorney Kevin Warren took questions about getting “it right,” a mantra uttered nearly 30 times in the 17-minute press conference.

Running back Adrian Peterson has been placed on an exempt list, an order directed by the Vikings, agreed to by Peterson and made possible by NFL commissioner Roger Godell’s oversight. The Vikings’ decision comes two days after the team held a similar press conference at the same location announcing Peterson’s reinstatement.

Public outcry from fans, media, sponsors and even Governor Mark Dayton prompted the change, as Mark Wilf said: “We value our partners, sponsors and community, and especially our fans. In the end, it’s really about getting it right.”

Peterson will be paid his full salary while sorting out his legal matters, which assistant DA Phil Grant has reportedly said could take “nine to 12 months” to go to trial, though a judge can lengthen or shorten at his/her discretion.

The $12 million question for the Vikings is: Will Peterson play another game in 2014? If not, will he ever don the Vikings purple again?

“Until these legal matters are resolved, he will remain on this exemption list,” Spielman said.

September 4, 2014

A deluge of public domain images

Filed under: Business, Cancon, History, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 00:02

Techdirt‘s Mike Masnick alerted me to a new source of old images:

Here’s some nice news. Kalev Leetaru has been liberating a ton of public domain images from books and putting them all on Flickr. He’s been going through Internet Archive scans of old, public domain books, isolating the images, and turning them into individual images. Because, while the books and images are all public domain, very few of the images have been separated from the books and released in a digital format.

There are all sorts of images in this stream, so you never know what you’ll find when you dive in. Here, for example is an image used in Canadian grocer January-June 1908:

Crown illustration from Canadian Grocer 1908

Which, if you follow the link to the original publication, was isolated from this page of ads:

Full page from Canadian Grocer 1908

Or the rather impressive works of George White & Sons in London, Ontario:

George White and Sons, London Ontario 1913

This image appeared in Canadian Machinery and Manufacturing News (January-June 1913), illustrating a “Staff article” about the company:

A description of the works of an old established firm building threshing machinery, traction engines, etc. The plant has been gradually built up to its present size, the foundry being the latest addition. The company maintain two branches in the West and have agencies in all the principal cities and towns in the grain growing districts of Canada.

May 2, 2014

Calling BS on the Beer Store ad campaign

Filed under: Business, Cancon — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 08:09

Michael Pinkus takes a short pause from his usual wine reviews (and decrying the LCBO for their stone-age approach to selling wine) to throw some scorn at the foreign-owned multinational oligopoly that runs our beer retail business in Ontario:

Not sure which [of the two TV ads] I object to more, the lies of the first or the total misrepresentation of variety store owners in the second. The biggest lie to me in #1 is the implication of impeccable customer service: the visual of a beer store employee (Glenn Howard) showing a customer to her beer selection (can woman not find the beer they are bringing home to their man on their own? Is that another implication here?) or is he giving a recommendation of what beer to serve? Either way it’s a complete falsehood: I have been to plenty of Beer Stores in my day and NO ONE HAS EVER ‘showed me’ to the beer I was looking for, in fact, Beer Store employees are some of the surliest bunch in the customer service world, second only to LCBO and Home Depot staff for the most un-helpful in retail.

Ad #2 makes variety store owners look complacent in the act of minors buying alcohol in their stores, the only thing the Beer Store did not do was put an ethnic minority behind the counter (that should be your first clue that the Beer Store is out of touch with corner stores) … But seriously what a load of absolute garbage that ad is. I was thinking that a good acronym for the Beer Store is “The B.S.” which is exactly what they are peddling to the public with their ads and “beer facts” campaign … hopefully you see right through it: all they are trying to do is protect their bottom line through the guise of social responsibility. Heck the LCBO has been using that excuse for years and look at the monopoly they’ve built.

When it comes to the illegal sale of booze to minors, no one is protected more than the liquor store employees of this province. First, both LCBO and Beer Store employees are protected by unions, so if they were to sell to minors that employee would continue to keep their job. A sting by reporter David Menzies for SunMedia proved that not only can minors get alcohol at the LCBO but nothing befell the employees who sold to that minor.

On the other hand, a variety / corner store would face harsh penalties, stiff fines and I am sure the loss of their license to sell booze and quite possibly lose their store, their livelihood, everything they’ve worked for – not to mention the civil lawsuit that might be a consequence of their actions. Most variety store owners are hardworking, law abiding people who work long hours in their own stores, and usually rely on their family members to help out. They aren’t about to give up their way to make a living to sell a couple extra bottles of Blue to 15-year-old Joey Ripkin. Now, I’m not saying there aren’t any rotten eggs in the basket, but you’ve had LCBO workers sell booze out the back door of stores and warehouses and clerks sell to friends – there’s always someone who takes advantage of the system, but to paint them all with this absurd brush is clearly ridiculous. The BS the Beer Store is pushing is practically see-through.

The loss of one’s business and livelihood is a bigger price to pay than the slap on the wrist a Beer / LCBO store employee would see.

April 30, 2014

What if real life had lag like online games do?

Filed under: Humour, Technology — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 00:01

You wouldn’t accept lag offline, so why do it online? ume.net, a fiber broadband provider that offers up to 1000 Mbit/s, performed an experiment. Four volunteers got to experience internet’s biggest disturbance in real life – lag.

H/T to Jeff Sher for the link.

April 16, 2014

North Korean embassy officials upset over London hair salon ad

Filed under: Asia, Britain, Business — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

BBC News on the apparent diplomatic incident taking place at M&M Hair Academy in South Ealing:

Kim Jong Un bad hair day adNorth Korean officials paid a visit to a London hair salon to question why it had used their leader Kim Jong-un’s picture in a poster offering haircuts.

The poster in M&M Hair Academy in South Ealing featured the words “Bad Hair Day?” below the leader’s picture.

Barber Karim Nabbach said embassy officials were shown the door and the salon’s manager spoke to the police.

The Met Police said: “We have spoken to all parties involved and no offence has been disclosed.”

The salon put up the poster on 9 April and the next day two men claiming to be officials from the North Korean embassy visited the salon and demanded to meet the manager, Mo Nabbach.

Karim Nabbach said: “We put up posters for an offer for men’s hair cuts through the month of April. Obviously in the current news there has been this story that North Korean men are only allowed one haircut.

H/T to Eric for the link.

March 22, 2014

Variations on Bach

Filed under: Japan, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 10:11

Classic FM has a collection of 10 videos which use Bach’s music in varied ways, including this rather charming forest xylophone performance as an ad for a Japanese mobile phone:

Uploaded on 4 May 2011

Very nice music from a very long xylophone in the forest.
No CG or tape-cut. Four days spent.
This is for a newly launched cell phone of NTT Docomo, the largest mobile service provider in Japan. Shell of the new phone is wood and their idea is to use domestic woods that are produced after preservative maintenance of Japanese forest.
ドコモのサイトでステキな映像発見。

Music: “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring”, by Bach
Cannes Lion Award Winner 2010

H/T to Samizdata for the link.

March 18, 2014

Updating David’s sling, outraging Italian politicians

Filed under: Business, Europe, Media — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 07:41

Virginia Postrel diagnoses the real reason politicians are upset about Armalite’s updated image of David’s armament:

David and the Armalite

Italian authorities were indignant when they discovered that the Illinois weapons maker ArmaLite had an advertising campaign showing Michelangelo’s David holding one of its rifles. “The advertisement image of an armed David offends and violates the law,” tweeted tourism minister Dario Franceschini. Angel Tartuferi, director of the Accademia Gallery, which houses the sculpture, agreed: “The law says that the aesthetic value of the work cannot be altered.”

This moral posturing is clearly about something other than respect for the sculpture’s “aesthetic value” or “cultural dignity.” Otherwise, officials would crack down on the David boxer shorts sold by countless Florentine vendors. And where was the outrage in 1981, when the David was flogging Rush brand poppers, amyl nitrite drugs used to enhance sexual pleasure, in magazines aimed at gay men?

It seems that it’s fine to use the David to sell things as long as you emphasize his nudity rather than his meaning.

[...]

ArmaLite’s ads broke the unwritten rules. Instead of highlighting the hero’s body, they emphatically made him a warrior. Hence Franceschini’s objection to an “armed David,” even though every David is armed. “David famously used a slingshot to defeat the giant Goliath, making the gun imagery, thought up by the Illinois-based ArmaLite, even more inappropriate,” writes Emma Hall in Ad Age.

To the contrary, the gun imagery, while incongruously machine-age, was utterly appropriate. David did not use a “slingshot.” He used a sling. As historians of ancient warfare — and readers of Malcolm Gladwell’s latest book, David and Goliath — know, a sling was no child’s toy. It was a powerful projectile weapon, a biblical equivalent of ArmaLite’s wares.

March 17, 2014

Tokenism watch – PhD models

Filed under: Business, Media — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 08:06

Martha Gill is underwhelmed by Betabrand’s use of PhDs as runway clothing models:

‘Hey ladies, you might have PhDs, but really you all want to be models’

Is there no job you don’t need a ludicrous set of qualifications for nowadays? Clothing company PhD, in a fairly ill-defined attempt to, I don’t know, raise awareness or something, have hit upon a novel concept for a fashion shoot: recruiting only models with PhDs.

“Our designers cooked up a collection of smart fashions for spring, so why not display them on the bodies of women with really big brains?” founder Chris Lindland said in a statement. Supporters have greeted it as a feminist move, saying it helps to promote “different kinds of female role models”.

Hmmm. Does it? I’m really not so sure that it does.

[...]

I mean, I see what they’re trying to do. They are trying to broaden the public’s idea of models, make them more representative, and show that being intelligent is something to aspire to, too. They just haven’t managed to do this. In any way.

You see, what I think they’ve done here is confuse the term “role model” with “clothing model”. The drive to make models more “representative” (see also Dove’s “real women” campaign) is actually setting up modelling to be far more aspirational than it is. It takes as read that being a model is the pinnacle of feminine achievement, and all we need to do to make girls feel good about themselves is to tell them they, too, can all be models. Even if they’re PhD students.

But models are just models. Really, really, ridiculously good-looking people doing what, when it comes down to it, is a fairly crap job.

The photo chosen to accompany the article in the Telegraph is why I originally wrote “runway model” instead of “clothing model”. The photos in the Daily Mail taken from the Betabrand website are much less … ridiculous than the Telegraph implies. They’re just modelling ordinary clothing for ordinary women, not the weird and totally impractical stuff some clothing designers foist on their runway models at fashion shows.

Betabrand PhD model example

I’d say there’s no story here (despite blogging about it), but there is. It’s just not quite the drive-by that the Telegraph‘s photo editor wants it to be. Betabrand scored a lot of free advertising and (probably) got its clothing line modelled on the cheap as well. It’s rather amusing that the Daily Mail is significantly more realistic in their coverage of this story than the Telegraph.

February 20, 2014

Cracking Facebook‘s news feed algorithm

Filed under: Business, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 10:56

Sean Davis does the analysis on how Facebook‘s internal process works to determine who gets to see what in their newsfeeds. This was for an organization’s page, so the analysis may not be the same for personal Facebook pages, but the bottom line is that the money you may spend for ads is worth it, but you’re wasting your money with promoted posts:

If you manage your company’s Facebook page and have ever wondered how the Facebook news feed algorithm decides how many of your fans will see your content, then wonder no more. We’ve cracked the code (or we’ve at least cracked the code as it pertains to The Federalist’s Facebook page). And yes, for those of you who don’t feel like reading through the entire post or grappling with the math and statistics below, the Facebook news feed algorithm absolutely rewards the purchase of Facebook ads.

According to our analysis, five simple variables explain the vast majority (nearly 75 percent) of how the Facebook news feed algorithm works: total likes, daily paid reach, site page views from Facebook, weekend vs. weekday, and posts per day. The full magnitude of each factor’s effect is discussed in detail below.

[...]

Facebook can deny the charge all it wants, but according to extensive data for our Facebook page, the Facebook news feed algorithm clearly rewards the purchase of ads. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that — Facebook has every right to charge whatever it wants for the services it provides. The company’s advertisers and publishers, however, need to understand the extent to which Facebook uses ad purchases to increase a page’s news feed exposure. That’s why we conducted the analysis we did — money doesn’t grow on trees, and we need to have a very clear understanding of how money invested in advertising affects our overall bottom line. But it would be nice if Facebook were more transparent and specific about how its news feed algorithm works.

The company’s continued opacity is what led us to do our own digging, and according to Facebook’s own numbers about how our fans interact with our page, it turns out that a dollar spent on Facebook might not be worth as much as a dollar spent somewhere else.

February 2, 2014

Some of the Super Bowl commercials Canadians won’t see on TV

Filed under: Business, Football, Humour, Media — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 11:13

The audience for the Super Bowl is split between fans of the game (who actually care about the outcome) and fans of the ads (because this is the biggest TV audience, advertisers pull out all the stops and generally try to be genuinely funny). In Canada, thanks to our TV regulations, most of us will see the broadcast of the game itself, but we won’t see the same commercials as our US neighbours … we’ll get the same assortment of crummy ads they’ve been showing since the start of the season, with a few of the US ads as a “teaser”.

Fortunately for those who aren’t interested in the game itself, but like the commercials, the lead-up to the Super Bowl usually includes web release of many of the ads that will air during the broadcast. Here’s a selection put together by the Guardian, including a “behind the scenes” of an ad that won’t get shown … because it was never made:

Go behind the scenes of the Mega Huge Football Ad Newcastle Brown Ale almost made with the mega huge celebrity who almost starred in it. See more at http://www.IfWeMadeIt.com

The VW ad is rather amusing, too:

January 19, 2014

Obamacare opponents ruthlessly parody the efforts of supporters

Filed under: Humour, Media, Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 10:51

Those who are still opposed to President Obama’s healthcare program will go to any lengths to ridicule and belittle both the program itself and the people who support it. Here, for example is one of the nastiest attempts to drag Obamacare into the public eye in as negative and mocking a fashion as possible.

I’m either on drugs, or the administration is this helplessly stupid. The Tell a Friend — Get Covered campaign, better described as “a tourist trap off Route 66,” began a six-hour live-streamed event Thursday afternoon that was advertised to “include stories, tips, helpful information and other details related to national health care options.” Really, it was as if the audio-visual club got wasted on malt liquor and hijacked public access television.

Get Covered, a partnership among state healthcare exchanges and the Obamacare missionary Enroll America, expertly fails to cater to young people. Its circus began Thursday with a dance-off between Richard Simmons and the contortionist Nathan Barnatt, overseen by the star of an Internet show whose premise is “drunk cooking.” How this is supposed to entice a 27 year old to pay $200 a month for health insurance, or even talk about it, is a question for the gods.

“What’s he doing?” Simmons exclaimed as Barnatt began to shake his body wildly.

“He’s extending his livelihood! That’s what he’s doing!” Hannah Hart, your host and creator of My Drunk Kitchen, responded in an endorsement of cardio.

Oh, c’mon. Is this seriously going to be one of those D-grade infomercials in which the participants force every line back to the bottom one?

“His moves are telling us something,” Barnatt whispered as Simmons took his turn.

“They are, and I think they’re saying, ‘Be flexible about your health insurance options,’” Hart responded.

Yes. Yes, it is.

Oh. Sorry. Apparently this isn’t a sleazy disinformation scheme by opponents. It’s a “good faith” advertising effort by supporters. Carry on, then.

January 16, 2014

Facebook‘s business model and why your status isn’t gathering “Likes” anymore

Filed under: Business, Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 13:36

Derek Muller has an interesting analysis of the different business models of Facebook, YouTube, and other social media sites:

Published on 14 Jan 2014

Share this on Facebook ;)

Facebook is a complex ecosystem of individuals, creators, brands and advertisers, but I don’t think it serves any of these groups particularly well because its top priority is to make money. Now, I don’t think making money is a bad thing, in fact I hope to make some myself. The problem is the only way Facebook has found to make money is by treating all entities on the site as advertisers and charging them to share their content.

This business plan backfires because 1) not all entities ARE advertisers and 2) it was the content from these people, specifically friends, family, and creators that made the site worth visiting in the first place. Now the incentives are misaligned:
– individuals want to see great content, but they are now seeing more paid content and organically shared content which appeals to the lowest common denominator (babies, weddings, and banal memes)
– creators want to reach fans but their posts are being throttled to force them to pay to be seen
– brands and advertisers have to pay once to advertise their page on Facebook, and then pay again to reach the people who have already liked their page. Plus Facebook is not a place where people generally go to buy things.

Facebook stands in contrast to other social media like Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram where all content is shared with all followers.

I don’t spend much time on Facebook, even though I have my blog posts automatically posted to my timeline. When the video ads start to arrive, it will provide me with even more of an incentive to avoid spending time there.

H/T to Cate Matthews for the link.

Update: Apparently the folks who “Like” their own posts are not egomaniacs (well, not all of them) … they’re rationally responding to how Facebook‘s algorithms rank posts for deciding what will appear to your friends. A post with a “Like” is much more likely to be shared than one that hasn’t been “Liked”.

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